The three-dimensional solution structure obtained by NMR of the A35T mutant vnd/NK-2 homeodomain bound to the vnd/NK-2 consensus 16 bp DNA sequence was determined. This mutation to threonine from alanine in position 35 in helix II of the vnd/NK-2 homeodomain is associated with early embryonic lethality in Drosophila melanogaster. Although the unbound mutant protein is not structured, in the DNA-bound state it adopts the three-helix fold characteristic of all known homeodomains, but with alterations relative to the structure of the wild-type analogue. These structural modifications occur, and are accompanied by a 50-fold reduction in the DNA binding affinity, even though most of the protein-DNA interactions originally seen for the wild-type homeodomain are found likewise in the threonine analogue. Alterations include torsional angle changes in the loop between helix I and helix II, and in the turn between helix II and helix III, as well as in a distortion of the usual antiparallel orientation of helix I with respect to helix II. The alteration of the position of leucine 40 in the A35T mutant is proposed to explain the observed 1.27 ppm upfield shift of the corresponding amide proton resonance relative to the value observed for the wild-type analogue. A detailed comparison of the structures of the mutant A35T and wild-type vnd/NK-2 homeodomains bound to the cognate DNA is presented. The consequences of the structural alteration of the DNA-bound A35T mutant vnd/NK-2 protein may constitute the basis of the observed early embryonic lethality.
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