BACKGROUND: CtBP1 and CtBP2 are transcriptional co-repressors that modulate the activity of a large number of transcriptional repressors via the recruitment of chromatin modifiers. Many CtBP-regulated proteins are involved in pathways associated with tumorigenesis, including TGF-beta and Wnt signalling pathways and cell cycle regulators such as RB/p130 and HDM2, as well as adenovirus E1A. CtBP1 and CtBP2 are highly similar proteins, although evidence is emerging that their activity can be differentially regulated, particularly through the control of their subcellular localisation. CtBP2s from diverse species contain a unique N-terminus, absent in CtBP1 that plays a key role in controlling the nuclear-cytoplasmic distribution of the protein.<br/><br/>RESULTS: Here we show that amino acids (a.a.) 4-14 of CtBP2 direct CtBP2 into an almost exclusively nuclear distribution in cell lines of diverse origins. Whilst this sequence contains similarity to known nuclear localisation motifs, it cannot drive nuclear localisation of a heterologous protein, but rather has been shown to function as a p300 acetyltransferase-dependent nuclear retention sequence. Here we define the region of CtBP2 required to co-operate with a.a. 4-14 to promote CtBP2 nuclear accumulation as being within a.a. 1-119. In addition, we show that a.a. 120-445 of CtBP2 can also promote CtBP2 nuclear accumulation, independently of a.a. 4-14. Finally, CtBP1 and CtBP2 can form heterodimers, and we show that the interaction with CtBP2 is one mechanism whereby CtBP1 can be recruited to the nucleus.<br/><br/>CONCLUSION: Together, these findings represent key distinctions in the regulation of the functions of CtBP family members that may have important implications as to their roles in development, and cell differentiation and survival.<br/
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