The C-terminal tails of the mitochondrial transcription factors Mtf1 and TFB2M are part of an autoinhibitory mechanism that regulates DNA binding

J Biol Chem. 2020 May 15;295(20):6823-6830. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA120.013338. Epub 2020 Apr 2.


The structurally homologous Mtf1 and TFB2M proteins serve as transcription initiation factors of mitochondrial RNA polymerases in Saccharomyces cerevisiae and humans, respectively. These transcription factors directly interact with the nontemplate strand of the transcription bubble to drive promoter melting. Given the key roles of Mtf1 and TFB2M in promoter-specific transcription initiation, it can be expected that the DNA binding activity of the mitochondrial transcription factors is regulated to prevent DNA binding at inappropriate times. However, little information is available on how mitochondrial DNA transcription is regulated. While studying C-terminal (C-tail) deletion mutants of Mtf1 and TFB2M, we stumbled upon a finding that suggested that the flexible C-tail region of these factors autoregulates their DNA binding activity. Quantitative DNA binding studies with fluorescence anisotropy-based titrations revealed that Mtf1 with an intact C-tail has no affinity for DNA but deletion of the C-tail greatly increases Mtf1's DNA binding affinity. Similar observations were made with TFB2M, although autoinhibition by the C-tail of TFB2M was not as complete as in Mtf1. Analysis of available TFB2M structures disclosed that the C-tail engages in intramolecular interactions with the DNA binding groove in the free factor, which, we propose, inhibits its DNA binding activity. Further experiments showed that RNA polymerase relieves this autoinhibition by interacting with the C-tail and engaging it in complex formation. In conclusion, our biochemical and structural analyses reveal autoinhibitory and activation mechanisms of mitochondrial transcription factors that regulate their DNA binding activities and aid in specific assembly of transcription initiation complexes.

Keywords: Mtf1; RNA polymerase; TFB2M; autoinhibition; fluorescence anisotropy; mitochondria; mitochondrial RNA polymerase; mitochondrial transcription factors; protein–DNA interaction; transcriptional coactivator.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Fungal / genetics
  • DNA, Fungal / metabolism*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / metabolism*
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / genetics
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Domains
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / metabolism*
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • DNA, Fungal
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • MTF1 protein, S cerevisiae
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases

Associated data

  • PDB/1I4W
  • PDB/6ERO
  • PDB/6ERP