Results obtained in a previous study suggested that cysteine residues in the estrogen receptor were covalent attachment sites for four 17α- (haloacetamidoalkyl)estradiols (halo, bromo or iodo; alkyl, methyl, ethyl, or propyl). To identify the putative concerned cysteines, we expressed wild- type and various cysteine → alanine mutants of the human estrogen receptor in COS cells and determined their ability to be alkylated by the four electrophiles. The quadruple mutant, in which all the cysteines (residues 381, 417, 447, and 530) of the hormone-binding site were changed to alanines, showed very little electrophile labeling, whereas the four single mutants (C381A, C417A, C447A, and C530A) were alkylated as efficiently as the wild- type receptor. These results (i) demonstrate that cysteine residues were covalent attachment sites of electrophiles and (ii) indicate that more than one cysteine residue could be alkylated. Analysis of three double mutants (C381A/C530A, C417A/C530A, and C447A/C530A) provided strong evidence that only C417 and C530 were sites for electrophile covalent attachment. Since C530 was also alkylated by tamoxifen aziridine, a nonsteroidal affinity- labeling agent, we propose a selective mode of superimposition of tamoxifen- class antiestrogens with estradiol, which could account for the relative positioning of the two types of ligands in the receptor hormone-binding pocket. According to the structure of the hormone-binding pocket of nuclear receptors, as inferred from crystallographic studies and general sequence alignment of hormone-binding domains, C417 and C530 appear to be (1) located at the extreme border or in structural elements involved in delineation of the hormone-binding pocket, (2) spatially in close proximity to each other, and (3) in positions highly homologous to those of glucocorticoid receptor sites alkylated by affinity- and photoaffinity-labeling agents, respectively.
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