Transcription factors (TFs) are thought to function with partners to achieve specificity and precise quantitative outputs. In the developing heart, heterotypic TF interactions, such as between the T-box TF TBX5 and the homeodomain TF NKX2-5, have been proposed as a mechanism for human congenital heart defects. We report extensive and complex interdependent genomic occupancy of TBX5, NKX2-5, and the zinc finger TF GATA4 coordinately controlling cardiac gene expression, differentiation, and morphogenesis. Interdependent binding serves not only to co-regulate gene expression but also to prevent TFs from distributing to ectopic loci and activate lineage-inappropriate genes. We define preferential motif arrangements for TBX5 and NKX2-5 cooperative binding sites, supported at the atomic level by their co-crystal structure bound to DNA, revealing a direct interaction between the two factors and induced DNA bending. Complex interdependent binding mechanisms reveal tightly regulated TF genomic distribution and define a combinatorial logic for heterotypic TF regulation of differentiation.
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