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L Wickert and J Selbig

We have generated 24 DNA-binding domain structure models of alternatively spliced or mutated steroid receptor variants by homology-based modeling. Members of the steroid receptor family dispose of a DNA-binding domain which is built from two zinc fingers with a preserved sequence homology of about 90%. Data from crystallographic analysis of the glucocorticoid receptor DNA-binding domain are therefore appropriate to serve as a template structure. We inserted or deleted amino acid residues in order to study the structural details of the glucocorticoid, mineralocorticoid, and androgen receptor splice variants. The receptor variants are created by QUANTA- and MODELLER-based modeling. Subsequently, the resulting energy-minimized models were compared with each other and with the wild-type receptor respectively. A prediction for the receptor function based mainly on the preservation or destruction of secondary structures has been carried out. The simulations showed that amino acid insertions of one, four or nine additional residues of existing steroid receptor splice variants were tolerated without destruction of the secondary structure. In contrast, a deletion of four amino acids at the splice site junction leads to modifications in the secondary structure of the DNA-recognition helix which apparently disturb the receptor-DNA interaction. Furthermore, an insertion of 23 amino acid residues between the zinc finger of the androgen receptor leads to a large loop with an additional alpha-helical structure which seems to disconnect a specific contact from its hormone response element. Thereafter, the prediction of receptor function based on the molecular models was compared with the available experimental results from the in vitro function tests. We obtained a close correspondence between the molecular modeling-based predictions and the conclusions of receptor function drawn from in vitro studies.