Nat Commun 2016 Apr 21;7:11222. Epub 2016 Apr 21.
Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire et Végétale, Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS UMR5168, CEA/DRF/BIG, INRA UMR 1417, 17, avenue des Martyrs, 38054 Grenoble, France.
Deciphering the mechanisms directing transcription factors (TFs) to specific genome regions is essential to understand and predict transcriptional regulation. TFs recognize short DNA motifs primarily through their DNA-binding domain. Some TFs also possess an oligomerization domain suspected to potentiate DNA binding but for which the genome-wide influence remains poorly understood. Here we focus on the LEAFY transcription factor, a master regulator of flower development in angiosperms. We have determined the crystal structure of its conserved amino-terminal domain, revealing an unanticipated Sterile Alpha Motif oligomerization domain. We show that this domain is essential to LEAFY floral function. Moreover, combined biochemical and genome-wide assays suggest that oligomerization is required for LEAFY to access regions with low-affinity binding sites or closed chromatin. This finding shows that domains that do not directly contact DNA can nevertheless have a profound impact on the DNA binding landscape of a TF.