In the field of molecular biology, a corepressor is a substance that inhibits the expression of genes. In prokaryotes, corepressors are small molecules whereas in eukaryotes, corepressors are proteins. A corepressor does not directly bind to DNA, but instead indirectly regulates gene expression by binding to repressors.
A corepressor downregulates (or represses) the expression of genes by binding to and activating a repressor transcription factor. The repressor in turn binds to a gene promoter (a sequence of DNA adjacent to the regulated gene), thereby blocking transcription of that gene.
In prokaryotes, the term corepressor is used to denote the activating ligand of a repressor protein. For example, the E. coli tryptophan repressor (TrpR) is only able to bind to DNA and repress transcription of the trp operon when its corepressor tryptophan is bound to it. TrpR in the absence of tryptophan is known as an aporepressor and is inactive in repressing gene transcription. Trp operon encodes enzymes responsible for the synthesis of tryptophan. Hence TrpR provides a negative feedback mechanism that regulates the biosynthesis of tryptophan.
In short tryptophan acts as a corepressor for its own biosynthesis.
In eukaryotes, a corepressor is a protein that binds to transcription factors. In the absence of corepressors and in the presence of coactivators, transcription factors upregulate gene expression. Coactivators and corepressors compete for the same binding sites on transcription factors. A second mechanism by which corepressors may repress transcriptional initiation when bound to transcription factor/DNA complexes is by recruiting histone deacetylases which catalyze the removal of acetyl groups from lysine residues. This increases the positive charge on histones which strengthens the electrostatic attraction between the positively charged histones and negatively charged DNA, making the DNA less accessible for transcription.
In humans several dozen to several hundred corepressors are known, depending on the level of confidence with which the characterisation of a protein as a corepressors can be made.
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