Functional synthetic Antennapedia genes and the dual roles of YPWM motif and linker size in transcriptional activation and repression

Dimitrios K Papadopoulos, Diana Reséndez-Pérez, Diana L Cárdenas-Chávez, Karina Villanueva-Segura, Ricardo Canales-del-Castillo, Daniel A Felix, Raphael Fünfschilling, Walter J Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Segmental identity along the anteroposterior axis of bilateral animals is specified by Hox genes. These genes encode transcription factors, harboring the conserved homeodomain and, generally, a YPWM motif, which binds Hox cofactors and increases Hox transcriptional specificity in vivo. Here we derive synthetic Drosophila Antennapedia genes, consisting only of the YPWM motif and homeodomain, and investigate their functional role throughout development. Synthetic peptides and full-length Antennapedia proteins cause head-to-thorax transformations in the embryo, as well as antenna-to-tarsus and eye-to-wing transformations in the adult, thus converting the entire head to a mesothorax. This conversion is achieved by repression of genes required for head and antennal development and ectopic activation of genes promoting thoracic and tarsal fates, respectively. Synthetic Antennapedia peptides bind DNA specifically and interact with Extradenticle and Bric-à-brac interacting protein 2 cofactors in vitro and ex vivo. Substitution of the YPWM motif by alanines abolishes Antennapedia homeotic function, whereas substitution of YPWM by the WRPW repressor motif, which binds the transcriptional corepressor Groucho, allows all proteins to act as repressors only. Finally, naturally occurring variations in the size of the linker between the homeodomain and YPWM motif enhance Antennapedia repressive or activating efficiency, emphasizing the importance of linker size, rather than sequence, for specificity. Our results clearly show that synthetic Antennapedia genes are functional in vivo and therefore provide powerful tools for synthetic biology. Moreover, the YPWM motif is necessary--whereas the entire N terminus of the protein is dispensable--for Antennapedia homeotic function, indicating its dual role in transcriptional activation and repression by recruiting either coactivators or corepressors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11959-64
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2011


  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Animals
  • Antennapedia Homeodomain Protein
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Body Patterning
  • Drosophila
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Electrophoretic Mobility Shift Assay
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Genes, Synthetic
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Plasmids
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


Dive into the research topics of 'Functional synthetic Antennapedia genes and the dual roles of YPWM motif and linker size in transcriptional activation and repression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this