The androgen receptor has a subset of target DNA sequences, which are not recognized by any other steroid receptors. The androgen selectivity of these sequences was proposed to be the consequence of the ability of the androgen receptor to dimerize on direct repeats of 5′-TGTTCT-3′-like sequences. This is in contrast with the classical non-selective elements consisting of inverted repeats of the 5′-TGTTCT-3′ elements separated by three nucleotides and which are recognized by other steroid receptors in addition to the androgen receptor. We demonstrate that while the DNA-binding domain of the oestrogen receptor is unable to dimerize on direct repeats, dimeric binding can be rescued by replacing the second Zn finger and part of the hinge region by the corresponding fragment of the androgen receptor, but not the glucocorticoid receptor. In this study, we investigate the androgen receptor binding to all natural androgen-selective response elements described so far. We show that a 12-amino acid C-terminal extension of the DNA-binding domain is required for high-affinity binding of the androgen receptor to all these elements. For one androgen-specific low-affinity binding site, the flanking sequences do not contribute to the invitro affinity of the androgen receptor DNA-binding domain. Surprisingly, however, they control the transcriptional activity of the androgen receptor in transient transfection experiments. In conclusion, we give evidence that the alternative DNA-dependent dimerization of the androgen receptor on direct repeats is a general mechanism for androgen specificity in which the second Zn finger and hinge region are involved. In addition, the sequences flanking an androgen-response element can control the activity of the androgen receptor.

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