Many eukaryotic transcription factors are bimodal in their regulatory properties and can both repress and activate expression of their target genes. These divergent transcriptional properties are conferred through recruitment of auxiliary proteins, denoted coactivators and corepressors. Repression plays a particularly critical role in the functions of the nuclear receptors, a large family of ligand-regulated transcription factors involved in metazoan development, differentiation, reproduction, and homeostasis. The SMRT corepressor interacts directly with nuclear receptors and serves, in turn, as a platform for the assembly of a larger corepressor complex. We report here that SMRT is expressed in cells by alternative mRNA splicing to yield two distinct variants or isoforms. We designate these isoforms SMRTα and SMRTτ and demonstrate that these isoforms have significantly different affinities for different nuclear receptors. These isoforms are evolutionarily conserved and are expressed in a tissue-specific manner. Our results suggest that differential mRNA splicing serves to customize corepressor function in different cells, allowing the transcriptional properties of nuclear receptors to be adapted to different contexts.
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