Putative transcription factors have only recently been identified in the Plasmodium spp., with the major family of regulators comprising the Apicomplexan Apetala2 (AP2) proteins. To better understand the DNA-binding mechanisms of these transcriptional regulators, we characterized the structure and in vitro function of an AP2 DNA-binding domain from a prototypical Apicomplexan AP2 protein, PF14_0633 from Plasmodium falciparum. The X-ray crystal structure of the PF14_0633 AP2 domain bound to DNA reveals a beta-sheet fold that binds the DNA major groove through base-specific and backbone contacts; a prominent alpha-helix supports the beta-sheet structure. Substitution of predicted DNA-binding residues with alanine weakened or eliminated DNA binding in solution. In contrast to plant AP2 domains, the PF14_0633 AP2 domain dimerizes upon binding to DNA through a domain-swapping mechanism in which the alpha-helices of the AP2 domains pack against the beta-sheets of the dimer mates. DNA-induced dimerization of PF14_0633 may be important for tethering two distal DNA loci together in the nucleus and/or for inducing functional rearrangements of its domains to facilitate transcriptional regulation. Consistent with a multisite binding mode, at least two copies of the consensus sequence recognized by PF14_0633 are present upstream of a previously identified group of sporozoite-stage genes. Taken together, these findings illustrate how Plasmodium has adapted the AP2 DNA-binding domain for genome-wide transcriptional regulation.
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