The bZIP Region of the Plant Transcription Factor Opaque-2 Forms Stable Homodimers in Solution and Retains Its Helical Structure upon Subunit Dissociation<sup>†</sup>

Opaque-2 (O2) is a plant bZIP transcription factor that regulates the expression of α and β prolamines, the main storage proteins in seeds of cereals such as maize and <i>Coix</i>. One of the main processes modulating O2 activity is the heterodimerization with other bZIP transcription factors, but the primary mechanism underlying the partner choice is still unknown. In this paper, we have characterized the bZIP domain of O2 by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), circular dichroism (CD), and size-exclusion chromatography. Results obtained from CD measurements suggested that the native O2bZIP has about 40 of its 49 leucine-zipper residues in helical structure, while the DNA-binding domain is completely unstructured. Diffusion-ordered NMR spectroscopy and size-exclusion chromatography showed that O2 forms homodimers in solution. Thermal denaturation experiments indicate that O2 reversibly undergoes dissociation and unfolding in a process that is fully dependent on the protein concentration. Subunit dissociation of O2bZIP dimers, upon dilution of the protein, led to partially folded monomers that retained ∼80% of the native CD ellipticity at 222 nm. We believe that the existence of partially folded monomers could decrease the entropic penalty for helix formation involved in the DNA binding and in the subunit association of O2bZIP. Stabilization of partially folded monomers may also play a significant role in the dimerization of O2 with other bZIP transcription factors and, consequently, can be important for the regulation of the biological functions of O2 in plants.