Structural basis for HNF-4alpha activation by ligand and coactivator binding

J Biol Chem. 2004 May 28;279(22):23311-6. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M400864200. Epub 2004 Feb 24.


In addition to suggesting that fatty acids are endogenous ligands, our recent crystal structure of HNF-4alpha showed an unusual degree of structural flexibility in the AF-2 domain (helix alpha12). Although every molecule contained a fatty acid within its ligand binding domain, one molecule in each homodimer was in an open inactive conformation with alpha12 fully extended and colinear with alpha10. By contrast, the second molecule in each homodimer was in a closed conformation with alpha12 folded against the body of the domain in what is widely considered to be the active state. This indicates that although ligand binding is necessary, it is not sufficient to induce an activating structural transition in HNF-4alpha as is commonly suggested to occur for nuclear receptors. To further assess potential mechanisms of activation, we have solved a structure of human HNF-4alpha bound to both fatty acid ligand and a coactivator sequence derived from SRC-1. The mode of coactivator binding is similar to that observed for other nuclear receptors, and in this case, all of the molecules adopt the closed active conformation. We conclude that for HNF-4alpha, coactivator rather than ligand binding locks the active conformation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phosphoproteins / chemistry*
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • HNF4A protein, human
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4
  • Ligands
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Transcription Factors

Associated data

  • PDB/1PZL