Transcription factors and their genes in higher plants

Functional domains, evolution and regulation


L. Liu, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4J1, Canada. Fax: +902-494-3736, Tel.: +902-494-6525, E-mail:


A typical plant transcription factor contains, with few exceptions, a DNA-binding region, an oligomerization site, a transcription-regulation domain, and a nuclear localization signal. Most transcription factors exhibit only one type of DNA-binding and oligomerization domain, occasionally in multiple copies, but some contain two distinct types. DNA-binding regions are normally adjacent to or overlap with oligomerization sites, and their combined tertiary structure determines critical aspects of transcription factor activity. Pairs of nuclear localization signals exist in several transcription factors, and basic amino acid residues play essential roles in their function, a property also true for DNA-binding domains. Multigene families encode transcription factors, with members either dispersed in the genome or clustered on the same chromosome. Distribution and sequence analyses suggest that transcription factor families evolved via gene duplication, exon capture, translocation, and mutation. The expression of transcription factor genes in plants is regulated at transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels, while the activity of their protein products is modulated post-translationally. The purpose of this review is to describe the domain structure of plant transcription factors, and to relate this information to processes that control the synthesis and action of these proteins.