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Mol Cell Biol. Nov 1997; 17(11): 6321–6329.
PMCID: PMC232483

Synergistic activation of the fibroblast growth factor 4 enhancer by Sox2 and Oct-3 depends on protein-protein interactions facilitated by a specific spatial arrangement of factor binding sites.


Octamer binding and Sox factors are thought to play important roles in development by potentiating the transcriptional activation of specific gene subsets. The proteins within these factor families are related by the presence of highly conserved DNA binding domains, the octamer binding protein POU domain or the Sox factors HMG domain. We have previously shown that fibroblast growth factor 4 (FGF-4) gene expression in embryonal carcinoma cells requires a synergistic interaction between Oct-3 and Sox2 on the FGF-4 enhancer. Sox2 and Oct-3 bind to adjacent sites within this enhancer to form a ternary protein-DNA complex (Oct-3*) whose assembly correlates with enhancer activity. We now demonstrate that increasing the distance between the octamer and Sox binding sites by base pair insertion results in a loss of enhancer function. Significantly, those enhancer "spacing mutants" which failed to activate transcription were also compromised in their ability to form the Oct* complexes even though they could still bind both Sox2 and the octamer binding proteins, suggesting that a direct interaction between Sox2 and Oct-3 is necessary for enhancer function. Consistent with this hypothesis, Oct-3 and Sox2 can participate in a direct protein-protein interaction in vitro in the absence of DNA, and both this interaction and assembly of the ternary Oct* complexes require only the octamer protein POU and Sox2 HMG domains. Assembly of the ternary complex by these two protein domains occurs in a cooperative manner on FGF-4 enhancer DNA, and the loss of this cooperative interaction contributes to the defect in Oct-3* formation observed for the enhancer spacing mutants. These observations indicate that Oct-3* assembly results from protein-protein interactions between the domains of Sox2 and Oct-3 that mediate their binding to DNA, but it also requires a specific arrangement of the binding sites within the FGF-4 enhancer DNA. Thus, these results define one parameter that is fundamental to synergistic activation by Sox2 and Oct-3 and further emphasize the critical role of enhancer DNA sequences in the proper assembly of functional activation complexes.

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Selected References

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