The binding of transcription factors to specific DNA target sequences is the fundamental basis of gene regulatory networks. Chromatin immunoprecipitation combined with DNA tiling arrays or high-throughput sequencing (ChIP-chip and ChIP-seq, respectively) has been used in many recent studies that detail the binding sites of various transcription factors. Surprisingly, data from a variety of model organisms and tissues have demonstrated that transcription factors vary greatly in their number of genomic binding sites, and that binding events can significantly exceed the number of known or possible direct gene targets. Thus, current understanding of transcription factor function must expand to encompass what role, if any, binding might have outside of direct transcriptional target regulation. In this review, we discuss the biological significance of genome-wide binding of transcription factors and present models that can account for this phenomenon.
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