The NR4A subgroup: immediate early response genes with pleiotropic physiological roles

Nucl Recept Signal. 2006:4:e002. doi: 10.1621/nrs.04002. Epub 2006 Feb 8.


The nuclear hormone receptor (NR) superfamily includes the orphan NR4A subgroup, comprised of Nur77 (NR4A1), Nurr1 (NR4A2) and NOR-1 (NR4A3). These NRs are classified as early response genes, are induced by a diverse range of signals, including fatty acids, stress, growth factors, cytokines, peptide hormones, phorbol esters, neurotransmitters, and physical stimuli (for example magnetic fields, shear stress). The ability to sense and rapidly respond to changes in the cellular environment thus appears to be a hallmark of this subfamily. The members of the NR4A subgroup are well conserved in the DNA binding domain (approximately 91-95%) and the C-terminal ligand-binding domain (approximately 60%), but are divergent in the N-terminal AB region. These receptors bind as monomers, homodimers and heterodimers with RXRs (to mediate retinoid signaling) to different permutations of the canonical NR binding motif. The NR4A subgroup activates gene expression in a constitutive ligand-independent manner. NR4A-mediated trans-activation (LBD) involves unusually active N-terminal AF-1 domains that mediate coactivator recruitment. Moreover, the NR4A receptors encode atypical LBDs and AF-2 domains. For example, the LBDs contain no cavity due to bulky hydrophobic residue side chains, and lack the classical coactivator-binding cleft constituted by helices 3, 4 and 12. However, a hydrophobic patch exists between helices 11 and 12, that encodes a novel cofactor interface that modulates transcriptional activity. In line with the pleiotropic physiological stimuli that induce the NR4A subgroup, these orphan NRs have been implicated in cell cycle regulation (and apoptosis), neurological disease, steroidogenesis, inflammation, carcinogenesis and atherogenesis.