Defective importin beta recognition and nuclear import of the sex-determining factor SRY are associated with XY sex-reversing mutations

Vincent R. Harley, Sharon Layfield, Claire Mitchell, Jade Forwood, John Anna P, Lyndall J Briggs, Sharon G McDowall, David A Jans

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140 Citations (Scopus)


The architectural transcription factor SRY (sex-determining region of the Y chromosome) plays a key role in sex determination as indicated by the fact that mutations in SRY are responsible for XY gonadal dysgenesis in humans. Although many SRY mutations reduce DNA-binding/bending activity, it is not clear how SRY mutations that do not affect interaction with DNA contribute to disease. The SRY high-mobility group domain harbors two nuclear localization signals (NLSs), and here we examine SRY from four XY females with missense mutations in these signals. In all cases, mutant SRY protein is partly localized to the cytoplasm, whereas wild-type SRY is strictly nuclear. Each NLS can independently direct nuclear transport of a carrier protein in vitro and in vivo, with mutations in either affecting the rate and extent of nuclear accumulation. The N-terminal NLS function is independent of the conventional NLS-binding importins (IMPs) and requires unidentified cytoplasmic transport factors, whereas the C-terminal NLS is recognized by IMPß. The SRY-R133W mutant shows reduced IMPß binding as a direct consequence of the sex-reversing C-terminal NLS mutation. Of the N-terminal NLS mutants examined, SRY-R62G unexpectedly shows a marked reduction in IMPß binding, whereas SRY-R75N and SRY-R76P show normal IMPß binding, suggesting defects in the IMP-independent pathway. We conclude that SRY normally requires the two distinct NLS-dependent nuclear import pathways to reach sufficient levels in the nucleus for sex determination. This study documents cases of human disease being explained, at a molecular level, by the impaired ability of a protein to accumulate in the nucleus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7045-7050
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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