The protein-binding potential of C2H2 zinc finger domains

Kathryn J. Brayer, Sanjeev Kulshreshtha, David Segal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


There are over 10,000 C2H2-type zinc finger (ZF) domains distributed among more than 1,000 ZF proteins in the human genome. These domains are frequently observed to be involved in sequence-specific DNA binding, and uncharacterized domains are typically assumed to facilitate DNA interactions. However, some ZFs also facilitate binding to proteins or RNA. Over 100 Cys2-His2 (C2H2) ZF-protein interactions have been described. We initially attempted a bioinformatics analysis to identify sequence features that would predict a DNA- or protein-binding function. These efforts were complicated by several issues, including uncertainties about the full functional capabilities of the ZFs. We therefore applied an unbiased approach to directly examine the potential for ZFs to facilitate DNA or protein interactions. The human OLF-1/EBF associated zinc finger (OAZ) protein was used as a model. The human O/E-1-associated zinc finger protein (hOAZ) contains 30 ZFs in 6 clusters, some of which have been previously indicated in DNA or protein interactions. DNA binding was assessed using a target site selection (CAST) assay, and protein binding was assessed using a yeast two-hybrid assay. We observed that clusters known to bind DNA could facilitate specific protein interactions, but clusters known to bind protein did not facilitate specific DNA interactions. Our primary conclusion is that DNA binding is a more restricted function of ZFs, and that their potential for mediating protein interactions is likely greater. These results suggest that the role of C2H2 ZF domains in protein interactions has probably been underestimated. The implication of these findings for the prediction of ZF function is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-19
Number of pages11
JournalCell Biochemistry and Biophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Functional annotations
  • Protein chemistry
  • Protein-DNA interactions
  • Structural biology
  • Transcription factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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