Pre-print: Cooperative action of separate interaction domains promotes high-affinity DNA binding of Arabidopsis thaliana ARF transcription factors

M. Fontana, M. Roosjen, I. Crespo García, W. van den Berg, M. Malfois, R. Boer, D. Weijers, and J. Hohlbein, bioRxiv, 2022, [link]

The signaling molecule auxin is pivotal in coordinating many growth and development processes in plants mainly through the modulation of gene expression. The transcriptional response to auxin is mediated by the family of auxin response factors (ARF). Monomers of this family recognize a DNA motif (TGTC[TC]/[GG]) called the auxin-response element (AuxRE). ARFs can homodimerize through their DNA binding domains (DBD) thereby enabling cooperative binding for a bipartite inverted AuxRE (IR7). In addition to the DBD, most ARFs contain a C-terminal Phox and Bem1p (PB1) domain both capable of homotypic interactions, and mediating interactions with Aux/IAA repressors. Given the dual role of the PB1 domain, and the ability of both DBD and PB1 domain to mediate dimerization, a key question is how each of these domains contributes to conferring DNA-binding specificity and affinity. So far, ARF-ARF and ARF-DNA interactions have mostly been approached using qualitative methods that do not provide a quantitative and dynamic view on the binding equilibria. Here, we utilize a DNA binding assay based on single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) to study the affinity and kinetics of the interaction of several Arabidopsis thaliana ARFs with an IR7 AuxRE. We show that both DBD and PB1 domains of AtARF2 contribute toward DNA binding, and we identify ARF dimer stability as a key parameter in defining affinity and kinetics seen for the DBDs of different AtARFs. Lastly, we derived an analytical solution for a four-state cyclic model that explains both the kinetics and the affinity of the interaction between AtARF2 and IR7. Our work demonstrates that the affinity of ARFs towards composite DNA response elements can be tuned by small changes of their dimerization equilibrium suggesting that this effect has major implications for ARF-mediated transcriptional activity.