Members of the ETS family of transcription factors regulate a functionally diverse array of genes. All ETS proteins share a structurally conserved but sequence-divergent DNA-binding domain, known as the ETS domain. Although the structure and thermodynamics of the ETS-DNA complexes are well known, little is known about the kinetics of sequence recognition, a facet that offers potential insight into its molecular mechanism. We have characterized DNA binding by the ETS domain of PU.1 by biosensor-surface plasmon resonance (SPR). SPR analysis revealed a striking kinetic profile for DNA binding by the PU.1 ETS domain. At low salt concentrations, it binds high-affinity cognate DNA with a very slow association rate constant (≤10(5)M(-)(1)s(-)(1)), compensated by a correspondingly small dissociation rate constant. The kinetics are strongly salt dependent but mutually balance to produce a relatively weak dependence in the equilibrium constant. This profile contrasts sharply with reported data for other ETS domains (e.g., Ets-1, TEL) for which high-affinity binding is driven by rapid association (>10(7)M(-)(1)s(-)(1)). We interpret this difference in terms of the hydration properties of ETS-DNA binding and propose that at least two mechanisms of sequence recognition are employed by this family of DNA-binding domain. Additionally, we use SPR to demonstrate the potential for pharmacological inhibition of sequence-specific ETS-DNA binding, using the minor groove-binding distamycin as a model compound. Our work establishes SPR as a valuable technique for extending our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of ETS-DNA interactions as well as developing potential small-molecule agents for biotechnological and therapeutic purposes.
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