Zinc fingers are among the major structural motifs found in proteins that are involved in eukaryotic gene regulation. Many of these zinc-finger domains are involved in DNA binding. This study investigated whether the zinc-co-ordinating (Cys)2(His)2 motif found in the three zinc fingers of zif268 could be replaced by a (Cys)4 motif while still preserving DNA recognition. (Cys)2(His)2-to-(Cys)4 mutations were generated in each of the three zinc fingers of zif268 individually, as well as in fingers 1 and 3, and fingers 2 and 3 together. Whereas finger 1 and finger 3 tolerate the switch, such an alteration in finger 2 renders the polypeptide incapable of DNA recognition. The protein–DNA interaction was examined in greater detail by using a methylation-interference assay. The mutant polypeptides containing the (Cys)4 motif in fingers 1 or 3 recognize DNA in a manner identical to the wild-type protein, suggesting that the (Cys)4 motif appears to give rise to a properly folded finger. Additional results indicate that a zif268 variant containing a (Cys)2(His)(Ala) arrangement in finger 1 is also capable of DNA recognition in a manner identical to the wild-type polypeptide. This appears to be the first time that such alterations, in the context of an intact DNA-binding domain, have still allowed for specific DNA recognition. Taken together, the work presented here enhances our understanding of the relationship between metal ligation and DNA-binding by zinc fingers.

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