The first two STAT proteins were identified in the interferon system. There are seven mammalian STAT family members that have been identified: STAT1, STAT2, STAT3, STAT4, STAT5 (STAT5A and STAT5B), and STAT6. STAT1 homodimers are involved in type II interferon signalling, and bind to the GAS (Interferon-Gamma Activated Sequence) promoter to induce expression of ISG (Interferon Stimulated Genes). In type I interferon signaling, STAT1-STAT2 heterodimer combines with IRF9 (Interferon Response Factor) to form ISGF3 (Interferon Stimulated Gene Factor), which binds to the ISRE (Interferon-Stimulated Response Element) promoter to induce ISG expression.
All seven STAT proteins share a common structural motif consisting of an N-terminal domain followed by a coiled-coil, DNA-binding, linker, Src homology 2 (SH2), and a C-terminaltransactivation domain. Much research has focused on elucidating the roles each of these domains play in regulating different STAT isoforms. Both the N-terminal and SH2 domains mediate homo or heterodimer formation, while the coiled-coil domain functions partially as a nuclear localization signal (NLS). Transcriptional activity and DNA association are determined by the transactivation and DNA-binding domains, respectively.
Extracellular binding of cytokines or growth factors induce activation of receptor-associated Janus kinases, which phosphorylate a specific tyrosine residue within the STAT protein promoting dimerization via their SH2 domains. The phosphorylated dimer is then actively transported to the nucleus via an importin α/β ternary complex. Originally, STAT proteins were described as latentcytoplasmic transcription factors as phosphorylation was thought to be required for nuclear retention. However, unphosphorylated STAT proteins also shuttle between the cytosol and nucleus, and play a role in gene expression. Once STAT reaches the nucleus, it binds to a consensus DNA-recognition motif called gamma-activated sites (GAS) in the promoter region of cytokine-inducible genes and activates transcription. The STAT protein can be dephosphorylated by nuclear phosphatases, which leads to inactivation of STAT and subsequent transport out of the nucleus by a exportin-RanGTP complex.