Structural basis for the cooperative DNA recognition by Smad4 MH1 dimers

Nithya Baburajendran, Ralf Jauch, Clara Yueh Zhen Tan, Kamesh Narasimhan, Prasanna Kolatkar

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Smad proteins form multimeric complexes consisting of the 'common partner' Smad4 and receptor regulated R-Smads on clustered DNA binding sites. Deciphering how pathway specific Smad complexes multimerize on DNA to regulate gene expression is critical for a better understanding of the cis-regulatory logic of TGF-β and BMP signaling. To this end, we solved the crystal structure of the dimeric Smad4 MH1 domain bound to a palindromic Smad binding element. Surprisingly, the Smad4 MH1 forms a constitutive dimer on the SBE DNA without exhibiting any direct protein-protein interactions suggesting a DNA mediated indirect readout mechanism. However, the R-Smads Smad1, Smad2 and Smad3 homodimerize with substantially decreased efficiency despite pronounced structural similarities to Smad4. Therefore, intricate variations in the DNA structure induced by different Smads and/or variant energetic profiles likely contribute to their propensity to dimerize on DNA. Indeed, competitive binding assays revealed that the Smad4/R-Smad heterodimers predominate under equilibrium conditions while R-Smad homodimers are least favored. Together, we present the structural basis for DNA recognition by Smad4 and demonstrate that Smad4 constitutively homo-and heterodimerizes on DNA in contrast to its R-Smad partner proteins by a mechanism independent of direct protein contacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8213-8222
Number of pages10
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2011
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics

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