The control of access of SOX proteins to their nuclear target genes is a powerful strategy to activate or repress complex genetic programs. The sub-cellular targeting sequences of SOX proteins are concentrated within the DNA binding motif, the HMG (for high mobility group) domain. Each SOX protein displays two different nuclear localization signals located at the N-terminal and C-terminal part of their highly conserved DNA binding domain. The N-terminal nuclear localization signal binds calmodulin and is potentially regulated by intracellular calcium signalling, while the C-terminal nuclear localization signal, which binds importin-beta, responds to other signalling pathways such as cyclic AMP/protein kinase A. Mutations inducing developmental disorders like sex reversal have been reported in both NLSs of SRY, interfering with its nuclear localization and suggesting that both functional nuclear localization signal are required for its nuclear activity. A nuclear export signal is also present in the HMG box of SOX proteins. Group E SOX proteins harbour a perfect consensus nuclear export signal sequence in contrast to all other SOX proteins, which display only imperfect ones. However, observations made during mouse embryonic development suggest that non-group E SOX proteins could also be regulated by a nuclear export mechanism. The presence of nuclear localization and nuclear export signal sequences confers nucleocytoplasmic shuttling properties to SOX proteins, and suggests that cellular events regulated by SOX proteins are highly dynamic.
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