Mechanism of specificity in the Fos-Jun oncoprotein heterodimer.
Fos and Jun, the protein products of the nuclear proto-oncogenes c-fos and c-jun, associate preferentially to form a heterodimer that binds to DNA and modulates transcription of a wide variety of genes in response to mitogenic stimuli. Both Fos and Jun contain a single leucine zipper region. Previous studies have shown that the leucine zippers of Fos and Jun are necessary and sufficient to mediate preferential heterodimer formation. The leucine zipper regions from Fos and Jun are also known to fold autonomously, most likely as two-stranded, parallel coiled coils. We show here that 8 amino acids from Fos and from Jun are sufficient to mediate preferential heterodimer formation in a background of the GCN4 leucine zipper sequence. Using pH titration and amino acid replacements, we also show that destabilization of the Fos homodimer by acidic residues provides a major thermodynamic driving force for preferential heterodimer formation.