The transcription factor c-Myb is involved in early differentiation and proliferation of haematopoietic cells, where it operates as a regulator of self-renewal and multi-lineage differentiation. Deregulated c-Myb plays critical roles in leukaemias and other human cancers. Due to its role as a master regulator, we hypothesized it might function as a pioneer transcription factor. Our approach to test this was to analyse a mutant of c-Myb, D152V, previously reported to cause haematopoietic defects in mice by an unknown mechanism. Our transcriptome data from K562 cells indicates that this mutation specifically affects c-Myb's ability to regulate genes involved in differentiation, causing failure in c-Myb's ability to block differentiation. Furthermore, we see a major effect of this mutation in assays where chromatin opening is involved. We show that each repeat in the minimal DNA-binding domain of c-Myb binds to histones and that D152V disrupts histone binding of the third repeat. ATAC-seq data indicates this mutation impairs the ability of c-Myb to cause chromatin opening at specific sites. Taken together, our findings support that c-Myb acts as a pioneer factor and show that D152V impairs this function. The D152V mutant is the first mutant of a transcription factor specifically destroying pioneer factor function.
© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.