FoxP3 is an essential transcription factor (TF) for immunologic homeostasis, but how it utilizes the common forkhead DNA-binding domain (DBD) to perform its unique function remains poorly understood. We here demonstrated that unlike other known forkhead TFs, FoxP3 formed a head-to-head dimer using a unique linker (Runx1-binding region [RBR]) preceding the forkhead domain. Head-to-head dimerization conferred distinct DNA-binding specificity and created a docking site for the cofactor Runx1. RBR was also important for proper folding of the forkhead domain, as truncation of RBR induced domain-swap dimerization of forkhead, which was previously considered the physiological form of FoxP3. Rather, swap-dimerization impaired FoxP3 function, as demonstrated with the disease-causing mutation R337Q, whereas a swap-suppressive mutation largely rescued R337Q-mediated functional impairment. Altogether, our findings suggest that FoxP3 can fold into two distinct dimerization states: head-to-head dimerization representing functional specialization of an ancient DBD and swap dimerization associated with impaired functions.
Keywords: Foxp3; IPEX; Runx1; Treg; forkhead; homodimer; transcription factor.
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