Zinc finger-mediated protein interactions modulate Ikaros activity, a molecular control of lymphocyte development

EMBO J. 1996 Oct 1;15(19):5358-69.


The Ikaros gene, an essential regulator of lymphocyte differentiation, encodes, by means of differential splicing, protein isoforms with a distinct number of Kruppel-type zinc fingers organized in two domains. Deletion of the N-terminal zinc finger domain responsible for the sequence-specific DNA binding of the Ikaros proteins results in an early and complete arrest in lymphocyte development in homozygous mutant mice. In sharp contrast, heterozygotes reliably develop T cell leukemias and lymphomas. Here we show that the C-terminal zinc finger domain present in all of the Ikaros wild-type and mutant isoforms is responsible for their stable interactions off DNA and plays a pivotal role in determining their overall activity. Mutations in the C-terminal zinc fingers which ablate Ikaros protein interactions have a dramatic effect on the ability of these proteins to bind DNA and activate transcription. Therefore, interactions between Ikaros isoforms with an intact DNA binding domain are essential for their function. In contrast, interactions between isoforms with and without a DNA binding domain result in Ikaros complexes that do not bind DNA and, as a consequence, cannot activate transcription. Dominant-negative Ikaros isoforms are generated in smaller amounts by the wild-type Ikaros gene but are also produced exclusively by the N-terminally deleted Ikaros locus. Given these data, we propose that interactions between Ikaros isoforms are essential for normal progression through the lymphoid pathways. Mutations in the Ikaros gene that prevent Ikaros protein interactions or which change the relative ratio of DNA to non-DNA binding isoforms have profound effects in both lymphoid specification and homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 3T3 Cells
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / chemistry
  • Chelating Agents / pharmacology
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins*
  • Dimerization
  • Egtazic Acid / pharmacology
  • Ikaros Transcription Factor
  • Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Protein Binding
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Thymus Gland / chemistry
  • Thymus Gland / immunology
  • Transcription Factors / analysis
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcriptional Activation / physiology
  • Zinc / physiology
  • Zinc Fingers / genetics
  • Zinc Fingers / physiology*


  • Chelating Agents
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Zfpn1a1 protein, mouse
  • Ikaros Transcription Factor
  • Egtazic Acid
  • DNA
  • Zinc