Emerin belongs to the "LEM domain" family of nuclear proteins, which contain a characteristic approximately 40-residue LEM motif. The LEM domain mediates direct binding to barrier to autointegration factor (BAF), a conserved 10-kDa chromatin protein essential for embryogenesis in Caenorhabditis elegans. In mammalian cells, BAF recruits emerin to chromatin during nuclear assembly. BAF also mediates chromatin decondensation during nuclear assembly. The LEM domain and central region of emerin are essential for binding to BAF and lamin A, respectively. However, two other conserved regions of emerin lacked ascribed functions, suggesting that emerin could have additional partners. We discovered that these "unascribed" domains of emerin mediate direct binding to a transcriptional repressor, germ cell-less (GCL). GCL co-immunoprecipitates with emerin from HeLa cells. We determined the binding affinities of emerin for GCL, BAF, and lamin A and analyzed their oligomeric interactions. We showed that emerin forms stable complexes with either lamin A plus GCL or lamin A plus BAF. Importantly, BAF competed with GCL for binding to emerin in vitro, predicting that emerin can form at least two distinct types of complexes in vivo. Loss of emerin causes Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, a tissue-specific inherited disease that affects skeletal muscles, major tendons, and the cardiac conduction system. Although GCL alone cannot explain the disease mechanism, our results strongly support gene expression models for Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy by showing that emerin binds directly to a transcriptional repressor, GCL, and by suggesting that emerin-repressor complexes might be regulated by BAF. Biochemical roles for emerin in gene expression are discussed.
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