X-ray structure of Pur-α reveals a Whirly-like fold and an unusual nucleic-acid binding surface
The PUR protein family is a distinct and highly conserved class that is characterized by its sequence-specific RNA- and DNA-binding. Its best-studied family member, Pur-α, acts as a transcriptional regulator, as host factor for viral replication, and as cofactor for mRNP localization in dendrites. Pur-α-deficient mice show severe neurologic defects and die after birth. Nucleic-acid binding by Pur-α is mediated by its central core region, for which no structural information is available. We determined the x-ray structure of residues 40 to 185 from Drosophila melanogaster Pur-α, which constitutes a major part of the core region. We found that this region contains two almost identical structural motifs, termed “PUR repeats,” which interact with each other to form a PUR domain. DNA- and RNA-binding studies confirmed that PUR domains are indeed functional nucleic-acid binding domains. Database analysis show that PUR domains share a fold with the Whirly class of nucleic-acid binding proteins. Structural analysis combined with mutational studies suggest that a PUR domain binds nucleic acids through two independent surface regions involving concave β-sheets. Structure-based sequence alignment revealed that the core region harbors a third PUR repeat at its C terminus. Subsequent characterization by small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) and size- exclusion chromatography indicated that PUR repeat III mediates dimerization of Pur-α. Surface envelopes calculated from SAXS data show that the Pur-α dimer consisting of repeats I to III is arranged in a Z-like shape. This unexpected domain organization of the entire core domain of Pur-α has direct implications for ssDNA/ssRNA and dsDNA binding.