A dissection of the teashirt and tiptop genes reveals a novel mechanism for regulating transcription factor activity

Dev Biol. 2011 Dec 15;360(2):391-402. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.09.030. Epub 2011 Oct 8.


In the Drosophila eye the retinal determination (RD) network controls both tissue specification and cell proliferation. Mutations in network members result in severe reductions in the size of the eye primordium and the transformation of the eye field into head cuticle. The zinc-finger transcription factor Teashirt (Tsh) plays a role in promoting cell proliferation in the anterior most portions of the eye field as well as in inducing ectopic eye formation in forced expression assays. Tiptop (Tio) is a recently discovered paralog of Tsh. It is distributed in an identical pattern to Tsh within the retina and can also promote ectopic eye development. In a previous study we demonstrated that Tio can induce ectopic eye formation in a broader range of cell populations than Tsh and is also a more potent inducer of cell proliferation. Here we have focused on understanding the molecular and biochemical basis that underlies these differences. The two paralogs are structurally similar but differ in one significant aspect: Tsh contains three zinc finger motifs while Tio has four such domains. We used a series of deletion and chimeric proteins to identify the zinc finger domains that are selectively used for either promoting cell proliferation or inducing eye formation. Our results indicate that for both proteins the second zinc finger is essential to the proper functioning of the protein while the remaining zinc finger domains appear to contribute but are not absolutely required. Interestingly, these domains antagonize each other to balance the overall activity of the protein. This appears to be a novel internal mechanism for regulating the activity of a transcription factor. We also demonstrate that both Tsh and Tio bind to C-terminal Binding Protein (CtBP) and that this interaction is important for promoting both cell proliferation and eye development. And finally we report that the physical interaction that has been described for Tsh and Homothorax (Hth) do not occur through the zinc finger domains.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Compound Eye, Arthropod / growth & development
  • Compound Eye, Arthropod / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Drosophila / metabolism
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics*
  • Drosophila Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Repressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • Zinc Fingers


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • tio protein, Drosophila
  • tsh protein, Drosophila
  • Alcohol Oxidoreductases
  • C-terminal binding protein