In the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, the zinc finger transcriptional regulator TRA-1A directs XX somatic cells to adopt female fates. The membrane protein TRA-2A indirectly activates TRA-1A by binding and inhibiting a masculinizing protein, FEM-3. Here we report that a part of the intracellular domain of TRA-2A, distinct from the FEM-3 binding region, directly binds TRA-1A. Overproduction of this TRA-1A-binding region has tra-1
-dependent feminizing activity in somatic tissues, indicating that the interaction enhances TRA-1A activity. Consistent with this hypothesis, we show that tra-2
(mx) mutations, which weakly masculinize somatic tissues, disrupt the TRA-2/TRA-1A interaction. Paradoxically, tra-2
(mx) mutations feminize the XX germ line, as do tra-1
mutations mapping to the TRA-2 binding domain. We propose that these mutations render tra-2
insensitive to a negative regulator in the XX germ line, and we speculate that this regulator targets the TRA-2/TRA-1 complex. The intracellular domain of TRA-2A is likely to be produced as a soluble protein in vivo through proteolytic cleavage of TRA-2A or through translation of an XX germ line-specific mRNA. We further show that tagged derivatives of the intracellular domain of TRA-2 localize to the nucleus, supporting the hypothesis that this domain is capable of modulating TRA-1A activity in a manner reminiscent of Notch and Su(H).