The potency and efficacy of ligands for nuclear receptors (NR) result both from the affinity of the ligand for the receptor and from the affinity that various coregulatory proteins have for ligand-receptor complexes; the latter interaction, however, is rarely quantified. To understand the molecular basis for ligand potency and efficacy, we developed dual time-resolved fluorescence resonance energy transfer (tr-FRET) assays and quantified binding of both ligand and coactivator or corepressor to the thyroid hormone receptor (TR). Promoter-bound TR exerts dual transcriptional regulatory functions, recruiting corepressor proteins and repressing transcription in the absence of thyroid hormones (THs) and shedding corepressors in favor of coactivators upon binding agonists, activating transcription. Our tr-FRET assays involve a TRE sequence labeled with terbium (fluorescence donor), TRβ·RXRα heterodimer, and fluorescein-labeled NR interaction domains of coactivator SRC3 or corepressor NCoR (fluorescence acceptors). Through coregulator titrations, we could determine the affinity of SRC3 or NCoR for TRE-bound TR·RXR heterodimers, unliganded or saturated with different THs. Alternatively, through ligand titrations, we could determine the relative potencies of different THs. The order of TR agonist potencies is as follows: GC-1 ∼ T3 ∼ TRIAC ∼ T4 ≫ rT3 (for both coactivator recruitment and corepressor dissociation); the affinities of SRC3 binding to TR-ligand complexes followed a similar trend. This highlights the fact that the low activity of rT3 is derived both from its low affinity for TR and from the low affinity of SRC for the TR-rT3 complex. The TR antagonist NH-3 failed to induce SRC3 recruitment but did effect NCoR dissociation. These assays provide quantitative information about the affinity of two key interactions that are determinants of NR ligand potency and efficacy.
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