Regulation of RNA polymerase II transcription is critical for the proper development, differentiation, and growth of an organism. The RNA polymerase II core promoter is the ultimate target of a multitude of transcription factors that control transcription initiation. Core promoters encompass the RNA start site and consist of functional elements such as the TATA box, initiator, and downstream core promoter element (DPE), which confer specific properties to the core promoter. We have previously discovered that Drosophila Caudal, which is a master regulator of genes involved in development and differentiation, is a DPE-specific transcriptional activator. Here, we show that the mouse Caudal-related homeobox (Cdx) proteins (mCdx1, mCdx2, and mCdx4) are also preferential core promoter transcriptional activators. To elucidate the mechanism that enables Caudal to preferentially activate DPE transcription, we performed structure-function analysis. Using a systematic series of deletion mutants (all containing the intact DNA-binding homeodomain) we discovered that the C-terminal region of Caudal contributes to the preferential activation of the fushi tarazu (ftz) Caudal target gene. Furthermore, the region containing both the homeodomain and the C terminus of Caudal was sufficient to confer core promoter-preferential activation to the heterologous GAL4 DNA-binding domain. Importantly, we discovered that Drosophila CREB-binding protein (dCBP) is a co-activator for Caudal-regulated activation of ftz. Strikingly, dCBP conferred the ability to preferentially activate the DPE-dependent ftz reporter to mini-Caudal proteins that were unable to preferentially activate ftz transcription themselves. Taken together, it is the unique combination of dCBP and Caudal that enables the co-activation of ftz in a core promoter-preferential manner.
2015. Vol. 290, no 28, 17293-17305 p.