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Genetics and Molecular Biology

Print version ISSN 1415-4757On-line version ISSN 1678-4685

Genet. Mol. Biol. vol.28 no.4 São Paulo Oct./Dec. 2005 



Identification in silico of putative damage responsive elements (DRE) in promoter regions of the yeast genome



Walkiria Luckwu de Santana SilvaI; Andre Ricardo de Oliveira CavalcantiII; Katia Silva GuimarãesI; Marcos Antonio de Morais Jr.III

IUniversidade Federal de Pernambuco, Centro de Informática, Laboratório de Bioinformática, Recife, PE, Brazil
IIUniversidade Federal de Pernambuco, Centro de Ciências Exatas e da Natureza, Departamento de Química Fundamental, Recife, PE, Brazil
IIIUniversidade Federal de Pernambuco, Centro de Ciências Biológicas, Departamento de Genética, Recife, PE, Brasil

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We report an in silico analysis to identify nucleotide sequence motifs in DNA repair genes that may define a binding site for regulatory proteins during the induction of those genes by mutagens. The damage responsive elements (DRE) weight matrix generated in this analysis was used to search for homologous sequences in the promoter region of all genes, including putative gene and hypothetical open reading frames (ORFs), in the Saccharomyces Genome Data Base (SGD). The results demonstrated that over one third of the yeast genes in the database presented at least one 15-bp sequence in their promoter region with 85% or more of similarity to the DRE consensus sequence. The presence of the DRE sequence in the promoter region of regulatory genes and its high similarity to other well reported DNA binding sites points to its involvement in the general regulation of not only DNA repair genes but yeast genes in general.

Key words: DNA binding site, DNA repair, gene promoter, gene regulation, Transfac, weight matrix.




Mutagenic agents that damage DNA can result in increased transcription of a variety of Saccharomyces cerevisiae genes, including DNA repair genes such as the RAD2, RAD7, RAD18, RAD23, RAD51, RAD54, PHR1 and MAG1 as well as genes involved in DNA metabolism and protein modification such as genes RAD6, RNR1, RNR2, RNR3, CDC9, POL1 and UBI4 (Friedberg, 1991). Moreover, four damage inducible (DIN) and six DNA damage responsive (DDR) genes have so far been identified (McClanahan et al., 1984; Ruby and Szostak, 1985). The induction of these genes is dependent on the presence of a set of cis-regulatory sequences in their promoter region, as has been shown by detailed studies of the RAD2 and RNR2 gene promoters (Friedberg, 1991). The promoter region of the RAD2 gene contains two upstream activation sequence (UAS) elements known as damage responsive elements 1 (DRE1) and 2 (DRE2), essential for DNA-damage induced expression (Siede and Friedberg, 1992), while the RNR2 gene promoter contains three UAS elements (Elledge and Davis, 1989).

Lowndes and Murguia (2000) have schematically described a working model for checkpoint gene regulation in response to different types of DNA damage. In brief, the presence of pre-replicative bulk-lesions or double-strand breaks generated by exposure to mutagenic agents activates parallel upstream sensor mechanisms (UAS elements or upstream repressor sequence (URS) elements) by means of effector proteins that use modification mechanisms such as phosphorylation to activate specific DNA binding proteins that bind to target genes in the UAS or URS elements and arrest both transcription and the cell cycle. Therefore, cell cycle and some metabolic genes are repressed, while DNA repair, DNA metabolism and other metabolic genes are induced. Recently, microarray analysis has been employed to survey the whole S. cerevisiae genome in order to form a complete picture of cellular responsiveness to DNA injuries (Jelinsky et al., 2000; Gasch et al., 2001), although it still seems that the search for such inducible genes is far from complete.

The SNM1/PSO2 (henceforth called the SNM1 gene) gene belongs to the excision repair pathway (RAD3 pathway) and its product is involved in the repair of interstrand DNA cross-links caused by bifunctional mutagens (Henriques and Brendel, 1990). The SNM1 gene can be induced by cross-linking agents or ultraviolet light (Wolters et al., 1996), serial deletions in the SNM1 gene promoter having showed that a 15-bp sequence homologous to the RAD2 gene and the DRE2 element is essential for SNM1 induction (Wolters et al., 1996). Sequences similar to DRE2 have been found in other genes involved in DNA repair and nucleotide synthesis (Siede and Friedberg, 1992). Since SNM1 gene expression seems to be tightly controlled in yeasts by the presence of DNA lesions, it may offer a good platform to study the DNA repair regulatory circuitry that can be predicted by functional genomics and computational tools. Similarly, deletion of the DRE-like element present at the MAG1 gene promoter decreased the level of mutagen-induced gene expression five times (Xiao et al., 1993) in a manner similar to that seen for the SNM1 gene (Wolters et al., 1996).

During the in silico study reported in this paper we carried out computational analysis of the promoter region of yeast genes to identify base sequence patterns that could be targeted by activator or repressor proteins in response to DNA damage. We used the DRE1 and DRE2 sequences found in some well-known DNA repair genes such as RAD2 and SNM1 to identify DRE-like sequences in a variety of related and unrelated DNA repair genes.


Materials and Methods

Matrix sequence preparation

The DRE-like sequences in the promoter region of the SNM1, RAD2, PHR1, RAD18, RNR3, RAD23 and RAD7 genes have been described as essential for the expression of these genes (Wolters et al., 1996). We submitted these sequences to multiple alignments using the MegAlign tool of the DNAStar software package (DNAStar Inc., USA) to generate a consensus sequence containing 15 bp. In parallel, a set of sequences containing the -1000 bp upstream region of 13 yeast genes described as related to repair in the Saccharomyces Genome Database (SGD) ( was selected after pairwise alignment of each sequence with the 15 bp consensus generated by us. The SGD set and the consensus sequence were inputted into the Clustal-W program ( using the default parameters, yielding an alignment which contained several 15 bp sequences which were similar to the 15 bp consensus sequence. The ten highest scored were chosen to produce a new set with the seven original sequences. This new set was then used to generate a weight matrix by using the genome exploring and modeling software (GEMS) launcher ( The matrix generated was first checked against the whole yeast genome and produced a random expectation of 0.12 matches per 1000 nucleotides. The matrix was also used to scan the -500 bp upstream region of the yeast genes by using the default conditions (core similarity of 0.9) of the MatInspector Professional Program (Quandt et al., 1995; Wingender et al., 2000). This program contains the Transcription Factor Database (TRANSFAC) that allows the identification of the query matrix by comparing to those deposited in the database. The sequences resulting from this search being re-analyzed to estimate the degree of conservation by increasing the core similarity to 0.95 and 1.00.

Gene annotation and DNA binding motifs analysis

The genes matching the matrix sequence were first grouped according to their metabolic families by using the MIPS ( and YPD ( The gene clusters and DNA binding sequences used were those available on-line at (Tavazoie et al., 1999) and (Zhu and Zhang, 1999). The microarray data from mutagen-treated cells was taken from (Jelinsky et al., 2000) and (Gasch et al., 2001).



Identification of DRE-matrix element in yeast DNA repair genes

The sequence of the DRE-like sequence was 5’-GNRRAKGNATTGAAA-3’ (The bold-face letters N, R, R, K and N correspond to five ambiguous nucleotide positions) as established by the alignment of the DNA repair genes described by Wolters et al. (1996) and 13 other DNA repair genes collected from SGD. Unless otherwise indicated, references to DRE-like sequences refer to sequences conforming to this sequence henceforth. The nucleotide codes used were according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The consensus index for each nucleotide position is shown in Figure 1.



When we scanned the -500 bp sequence of the yeast genome we found many genes containing sequences which were similar to the DRE-like consensus sequence with complete conservation in the core TGAAA sequence at the 3’ end (Table 1). Other nucleotides also seem to be conserved, includes the nucleotide G at position 1, A at position 5, G at position 7 and the dinucleotide AT just before the core. All genes identified in Table 1 were induced by at least one mutagen according to microarray data produced by Jelinsky et al. (2000), although the induction level and the nature of the mutagen were variable.

Our SGD search for homologous sequences in the -500 bp promoter region of yeast genes yielded a total of 1645 matches with at least 85% matrix similarity and 100% similarity to the core TGAAA. In the rest of this paper we will use the term ‘gene’ to refer not only to both identified and putative genes but also in some cases even to hypothetical ORFs described on the SGD web site. The MatInspector result suggested that this element might be widespread in the promoter regions of the yeast genome, these regions accounting for a third of the total genes described in the SGD.

We also found two matches in the promoter regions of the ORFs YER041w (YEN1 gene) and YEL018w (Table 1), with the last ORF presenting two DRE-like consensus sequences in its promoter region. Both ORFs have been described in the Yeast genome Database as putative DNA repair genes, which were induced by treatment with methyl methane sulfoxide (MMS) and with 4-nitroquinoline 1-oxide (4-NQO).

When we increased the matrix similarity threshold to 95% the number of matches decreased substantially to 15 a group of genes (Table 2), with the SNM1 gene being the only gene in this group involved in some type of DNA metabolism and six (including the glutamate 5-kinase encoding PRO1 gene containing the complete DRE-like consensus in the promoter region) were not induced by any mutagen (Table 2). These results indicate that despite its function in the induction of the SNM1 gene the DRE-like sequence may act as a regulatory element for other genes.



Additionally, the SNZ1 gene was the only match containing four DRE-like consensus sequences and it was also described by Jelinsky et al. (2000) as being very susceptible to induction by mutagens with an induction factor of about 82 after treatment with MMS. This gene is induced in response to nitrogen limitation and growth arrest, and its protein product is part of the glutamine amidotransferase complex together with Sno1 protein (Dong et al., 2004). We found another 20 matches containing three DRE-like consensus sequences presenting from 85% to 95% matrix similarity, none of which were was directly involved in DNA repair. In our analysis, three ORFs (YLR060W, phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetase; YLR224W, hypothetically a protein; and YLR059C, putative 3’-5’ exonuclease) containing three DRE-like consensus sequences were not known to be induced by any mutagen yet tested, so there was no exact correlation between the presence or the number of DRE-like consensus sequences and the ability of a gene to be induced by a mutagen.

We were also able to identify 19 transcription factor-encoding genes containing in their promoter regions upstream sequences which were more than 90% similar to the DRE-like consensus element, 15 of these genes being inducible by treatments which damage DNA (Table 3). Ten of the 15 mutagen-inducible genes encode subunits of the so-called basal transcription complex, which either binds to the TATA box or correctly localize the RNA polymerase complex at the initiation site during initiation of transcription. Additionally, DRE-like consensus sequences were identified at the promoter region of genes encoding specific transcription factors, such as Gal4p, Leu3p and Gcr3p (Table 3). Therefore, the presence of DRE-like consensus sequences in the promoter region of regulatory genes may support the idea of the complex inter-connection of metabolic networks.



Homology between the DRE-like consensus sequence and known yeast DNA binding sites

Searching for homologous sequences was performed in the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Promoter Database (SCPD) using the consensus sequence and admitting six possible mismatches corresponding to the five ambiguous nucleotide positions in the matrix GNRRAKGNAT TGAAA (in bold) plus one mismatch at any of the other positions. A total of 16 transcriptional factor-binding sites were identified during our analysis (Table 4). The heat shock element (HSE) controls the stress response of several yeast genes encoding heat shock proteins by binding the heat shock transcription factor (HSF) described by Sakurai and Fukasawa (2001). All HSP genes were induced by mutagens with the exception of the HSE-containing CUP1 gene that was mutagen-repressed (Jelinsky et al., 2000).



High homology was also observed between the DRE-like consensus sequence and the stress response element (STRE) present at the promoter region of the DDR2 gene (Table 4). This gene is induced by a variety of mutagens as well as by heat shock but the function of its protein product is still unknown (Treger et al., 1998). A previous computer-generated pattern also identified a STRE motif for DDR48 gene (Treger et al., 1998), because of which we also performed sequence alignment of the DDR48 gene promoter and identified the presence of the homologous element 5’-GGCCAGCACCGGAAA-’ (conserved positions in bold) at position -318 to -304 at the Crick strand. The third member of this group, the polyubiquitin encoding gene UBI4 is induced in response to a variety of environmental stresses such as mutagens and heat shock due to the presence of both HSE and STRE sequences in its promoter region (Simon et al., 1998). Our pairwise alignment analysis with the DRE sequence identified the sequence 5’-TAAAAAAGATTG AAC-3’ (conserved nucleotides in bold) at positions -301 to -315 in the promoter region of the STE12 gene encoding a transcription factor involved in pheromone and pseudohyphal growth signal transduction pathways.



Our homology similarity-based searches in the promoter regions of the whole yeast genome using a consensus sequence based on the 5’-GNRRAKGNATTGAAA-3’ DRE-like consensus led to some intriguing results. Firstly, our data shows that not all DNA repair genes that contain the DRE-like consensus sequence analyzed in this work were induced by the mutagens tested by Jelinsky et al. (2000), although, of course, induction by other mutagens not yet tested cannot be ruled out. Microarray analysis also revealed interesting data in relation to gene regulation in that of the 12 genes in the microarray profile with significant mutagen induction only RNR3 is involved in DNA metabolism (Jelinsky et al., 2000). Ren et al. (2000) have demonstrated that the expression of the FUR4 gene is increased by the presence of galactose despite the fact that its promoter region does not contain any Gal4p consensus sequence binding site, although yet other yeast genes exist which contain the Gal4p binding site but are not galactose-inducible. Therefore, we cannot discard the possibility that our 5’-GNRRAKGNATTGAAA-3’ DRE-like sequence is involved in some kind of gene expression regulation. This suggests that the simple presence of a DRE-like sequence alone may not be a good enough indicator for gene induction by DNA-damage agents, although its presence is essential for induction of the SNM1/PSO2 (Wolters et al., 1996) and MAG1 (Xiao et al., 1993) genes. Ren et al. (2000) and Iyer et al. (2001) have indicated the need for additional empirical data and combined, and perhaps improved, search algorithms in order for investigators to accurately predict genuine binding sites.

Tavazoie et al. (1999) have proposed transcriptional regulatory networks based on clustering yeast genes according to the presence of putative cis-regulatory sequences in their promoter regions, these authors showing that the STRE factor is more frequent in genes belonging to cluster 8 which is rich in genes related to carbohydrate and tricarboxylic acid (TCA) metabolism. Intriguingly, the only genes in our analysis belonging to Tavazoie’s cluster 8 were RAD14 and UBI4 and no other stress or DNA damage responsive genes. Genes involved in DNA synthesis and replication, cell cycle control and mitosis, recombination and DNA repair were allocated to Tavazoie’s cluster 2, while genes responsive to stress and involved in cell rescue, defense and cell death were allocated to cluster 5 (Tavazoie et al., 1999). Gene cluster 2 is characterized by the presence of MCB and SCB sequence motifs (Table 4), and, to a lesser extent, the M13 motif, which were all also recognized as homologous to our DRE-like sequence (Table 4). The presence of MCB binding sites was reported to confer irradiation-replication specific regulation on many DNA repair genes (Mercier et al., 2001). Cluster 5 genes, to which DNA repair genes MAG1 and RAD10 belong, also contain mainly the M13 motif (Tavazoie et al., 1999). This motif contains the pentanucleotide TGAAA that is recognized by the Adr1p transcriptional factor. The homology we found between M13 and our DRE-like sequence (Table 4) suggests that the 5’-GNRRAKGNATTGAAA-3’ DRE sequence can be also recognized by a transcription factor. Similarly, Ettwiller et al. (2003) combined information from metabolic networks with genome information to predict cis-regulatory sequences in yeast promoters, their analysis producing 42 motifs with motif 19 showing high similarity to our DRE-like sequence and since motif 19 is not a recognized yeast transcription factor binding motif it is possible that it may represent a new regulatory motif.

In an attempt to describe a new method for identification of regulatory sequences, Harrison and DeLisi (2001) identified the consensus sequence AWGAAA as a target for binding of the Ste12 transcription factor by using the anchor motif generation method. The AWGAAA motif is similar to those previously described in TRANSFAC (ATGAAC) and the SCPD (ATGAAA) databases, these sequences being identical to the core sequence (ATGAAA) of our 5’-GNRRAKGNATTGAAA-3’ DRE-like sequence. The homology found between our DRE-like sequence and the previously identified regulatory motifs, either experimentally or by in silico analysis, suggests that these sequences belong to a family of regulatory sequences participating in the general mechanism of gene regulation. Further experimental data should confirm this hypothesis.



The authors are grateful to Dr. K. Quandt (Genomatix, Germany) for permission to use GEMS Launcher professional to prepare the DRE-matrix.



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Send correspondence to
Marcos Antonio de Morais Jr.
Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Centro de Ciências Biológicas, Departamento de Genética
Av. Moraes Rego s/n
50732-970 Recife, PE, Brazil

Received: September 24, 2004; Accepted: April 12, 2005.



Associate Editor: Sérgio Olavo Pinto da Costa

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