The negative cofactor 2 (NC2) is a protein complex composed of two subunits, NC2α and NC2β, and plays a key role in transcription regulation. Here we investigate whether each subunit contains a nuclear localization signal (NLS) that permits individual crossing of the nuclear membrane or whether nuclear import of NC2α and NC2β depends on heterodimerization. Our results from in vitro binding studies and transfection experiments in cultured cells show that each subunit contains a classical NLS (cNLS) that is recognized by the importin α/β heterodimer. Regardless of the individual cNLSs the two NC2 subunits are translocated as a preassembled complex as co-transfection experiments with wild-type and cNLS-deficient NC2 subunits demonstrate. Ran-dependent binding of the nuclear export receptor Crm1/exportin 1 confirmed the presence of a leucine-rich nuclear export signal (NES) in NC2β. In contrast, NC2α does not exhibit a NES. Our results from interspecies heterokaryon assays suggest that heterodimerization with NC2α masks the NES in NC2β, which prevents nuclear export of the NC2 complex. A mutation in either one of the two cNLSs decreases the extent of importin α/β-mediated nuclear import of the NC2 complex. In addition, the NC2 complex can enter the nucleus via a second pathway, facilitated by importin 13. Because importin 13 binds exclusively to the NC2 complex but not to the individual subunits this alternative import pathway depends on sequence elements distributed among the two subunits
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