A single amino acid can determine the DNA binding specificity of homeodomain proteins

Cell. 1989 Nov 3;59(3):553-62. doi: 10.1016/0092-8674(89)90038-x.


Many Drosophila developmental genes contain a DNA binding domain encoded by the homeobox. This homeodomain contains a region distantly homologous to the helix-turn-helix motif present in several prokaryotic DNA binding proteins. We investigated the nature of homeodomain-DNA interactions by making a series of mutations in the helix-turn-helix motif of the Drosophila homeodomain protein Paired (Prd). This protein does not recognize sequences bound by the homeodomain proteins Fushi tarazu (Ftz) or Bicoid (Bcd). We show that changing a single amino acid at the C-terminus of the recognition helix is both necessary and sufficient to confer the DNA binding specificity of either Ftz or Bcd on Prd. This simple rule indicates that the amino acids that determine the specificity of homeodomains are different from those mediating protein-DNA contacts in prokaryotic proteins. We further show that Prd contains two DNA binding activities. The Prd homeodomain is responsible for one of them while the other is not dependent on the recognition helix.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Deoxyribonuclease I
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Genes, Homeobox*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Nucleotide Mapping
  • Oligonucleotide Probes
  • Plasmids
  • Protein Conformation


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Oligonucleotide Probes
  • Deoxyribonuclease I