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Sci. STKE, 7 December 2004
[DOI: 10.1126/stke.2622004tr11]

Nuclear Receptor and Transcriptional Complex Cycles

Amy M. Fowler and Elaine T. Alarid*

1University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Physiology, 1300 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706.


*Corresponding author. E-mail, alarid{at}


Animation. Nuclear receptors are intracellular transcriptional regulators that reside in either the cytoplasm or nucleus in the inactive state. Based on experiments following the dynamics of the glucocorticoid receptor and estrogen receptor (1, 2), this animation shows nuclear estrogen receptor (ER) and its interaction with a short two-nucleosome fragment of chromatin in the absence and presence of estrogen. Gene activation appears to involve cyclical assembly and disassembly of protein complexes on the promoter region of the gene to be expressed. The periodic associations of different combinations of multimolecular complexes on the DNA over time highlight the dynamics underlying transcriptional regulation.

In this animation, the events that occur on the DNA are represented by the ordered recruitment of protein components to a larger macromolecular complex. The names and abbreviations of the various proteins are listed in Table 1, and their sizes in the animation are depicted in proportion to their relative molecular weights. Classes of proteins, such as HATs and HMTs, are maintained in a single color, and switching among individual proteins that belong to the same class is shown by a change in size and shape. Chromatin remodeling is indicated by an alteration in how tightly the DNA is associated with the histones. Posttranslational modification of histones and phosphorylation of RNAPII are indicated by color changes.

Two versions of the animation are available: A smaller size file, which is 2203 kb and opens in a smaller window, or a larger version, which is 7686 kb and opens in a larger window. Both animations show the same nuclear receptor cycle. Press the start button at the bottom of the QuickTime movie player to start the animation. Press the pause and play button to start and stop the action at any point.

This animation would be useful in teaching cell biology. It illustrates the dynamic nature of protein-DNA interactions and that chromatin remodeling, histone posttranslational modifications, and protein phosphorylation all contribute to the regulation of gene expression by nuclear receptors.

The animation was created by Cameron Slayden under the direction of Elaine Alarid and Amy Fowler.

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Table 1. Proteins involved in the nuclear receptor-chromatin cycles. Not all proteins are shown individually in the animation. Bold entries indicate the general name given for either a multiprotein complex or a class of proteins.

[Access Table]


1. R. Métivier, G. Penot, M. R. Hübner, G. Reid, H. Brand, M. Koš, F. Gannon, Estrogen receptor-a directs ordered, cyclical, and combinatorial recruitment of cofactors on a natural target promoter. Cell 115, 751-763 (2003). [Medline]

2. A. K. Nagaich, D. A. Walker, R. Wolford, G. L. Hager, Rapid periodic binding and displacement of the glucocorticoid receptor during chromatin remodeling. Mol. Cell 14, 163-174 (2004). [Medline]

Educational Details

Learning Resource Type: Animation

Context: Undergraduate upper division, graduate, professional (degree program)

Intended Users: Teacher, learner

Intended Educational Use: Teach, learn

Discipline: Cell biology, endocrinology, biochemistry

Keywords: Signal transduction, gene expression, transcription, histones, DNA, steroid receptors

Technical Details

Format: Quicktime file (mov file)

Size: 2,203 kb (small version) or 7,686 kb (large version)

Requirements: This animation will play with Quicktime ( or the Windows Media Player (

Related Resources

Perspective: A. M. Fowler, E. T. Alarid, Dynamic control of nuclear receptor transcription. Sci. STKE 2004, pe51 (2004). [Summary] [Full Text]

Perspective: D. B. DeFranco, P. Csermely, Steroid receptor and molecular chaperone encounters in the nucleus. Sci. STKE 2000, pe1 (2000). [Summary] [Full Text]

Protocol: A. K. Nagaich, G, L. Hager, UV laser cross-linking: A real-time assay to study dynamic protein/DNA interactions during chromatin remodeling. Sci. STKE 2004, pl13 (2004). [Abstract] [Full Text]

Protocol: C. Elbi, D. A. Walker, M. Lewis, G. Romero, W. P. Sullivan, D. O. Toft, G. L. Hager, D. B. DeFranco, A novel in situ assay for the identification and characterization of soluble nuclear mobility factors. Sci. STKE 2004, pl10 (2004). [Abstract] [Full Text]

Limits for Use

Cost: Free

Rights: This material may be downloaded, printed, linked to, and/or redistributed without modification for noncommercial, course-teaching purposes only, provided credit to STKE is included by listing the citation for the teaching resource.


Citation: A. M. Fowler, E. T. Alarid, Nuclear receptor and transcriptional complex cycles. Sci. STKE 2004, tr11 (2004).

© 2004 American Association for the Advancement of Science

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