The effect of pH on the structure and DNA binding of the FOXP2 forkhead domain

July 28, 2017


The effect of pH on the structure and DNA binding of the FOXP2 forkhead domain


Ashleigh Blane, Sylvia Fanucchi






Forkhead box P2 (FOXP2) is a transcription factor expressed in cardiovascular, intestinal, and neural tissues during embryonic development and is implicated in language development. FOXP2 like other FOX proteins contains a DNA binding domain known as the forkhead domain (FHD). The FHD interacts with DNA by inserting helix 3 into the major groove. One of these DNA–protein interactions is a direct hydrogen bond that is formed with His554. FOXP2 is localized in the nuclear compartment that has a pH of 7.5. Histidine contains an imidazole side chain in which the amino group typically has a pKa of ∼6.5. It seems possible that pH fluctuations around 6.5 may result in changes in the protonation state of His554 and thus the ability of the FOXP2 FHD to bind DNA. To investigate the effect of pH on the FHD, both the structure and the binding affinity were studied in the pH range of 5–9. This was done in the presence and absence of DNA. The structure was assessed using size exclusion chromatography, far-UV circular dichroism, and intrinsic and extrinsic fluorescence. The results indicated that while pH did not affect the secondary structure in the presence or absence of DNA, the tertiary structure was pH sensitive and the protein was less compact at low pH. Furthermore, the presence of DNA caused the protein to become more compact at low pH and also had the potential to increase the dimerization propensity. Fluorescence anisotropy was used to investigate the effect of pH on the FOXP2 FHD DNA binding affinity. It was found that pH had a direct effect on binding affinity. This was attributed to the altered hydrogen bonding patterns upon protonation or deprotonation of His554. These results could implicate pH as a means of regulating transcription by the FOXP2 FHD, which may also have repercussions for the behavior of this protein in cancer cells.




Circular dichroism, Ligand binding, Secondary structure, Protein denaturation, Biochemistry