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Abstract

Putative intersubunit electrostatic interactions between charged amino acids on the surfaces of the dimer interfaces of leucine zippers (g-e' ion pairs) have been implicated as determinants of dimerization specificity. To evaluate the importance of these ionic interactions in determining the specificity of dimer formation, we constructed a pool of > 65,000 GCN4 leucine zipper mutants in which all the e and g positions are occupied by different combinations of alanine, glutamic acid, lysine, or threonine. The oligomerization properties of these mutants were evaluated based on the phenotypes of cells expressing lambda repressor-leucine zipper fusion proteins. About 90% of the mutants do not form stable homooligomers. Surprisingly, approximately 8% of the mutant sequences have phenotypes consistent with the formation of higher-order (> dimer) oligomers, which can be classified into three types based on sequence features. The oligomerization states of mutants from two of these types were determined by characterizing purified fusion proteins. The Type I mutant behaved as a tetramer under all tested conditions, whereas the Type III mutant formed a variety of higher-order oligomers, depending on the solution conditions. Stable homodimers comprise less than 3% of the pool; several g-e' positions in these mutants could form attractive ion pairs. Putative repulsive ion pairs are not found among the homodimeric mutants. However, patterns of charged residues at the e and g positions do not seem to be sufficient to predict either homodimer or heterodimer formation among the mutants.

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