Sox2 and Pax6 co-regulate genes in neural lineages and the lens by forming a ternary complex likely facilitated allosterically through DNA. We used the quantitative and scalable cooperativity-by-sequencing (Coop-seq) approach to interrogate Sox2/Pax6 dimerization on a DNA library where five positions of the Pax6 half-site were randomized yielding 1024 cooperativity factors. Consensus positions normally required for the high-affinity DNA binding by Pax6 need to be mutated for effective dimerization with Sox2. Out of the five randomized bases, a 5' thymidine is present in most of the top ranking elements. However, this thymidine maps to a region outside of the Pax half site and is not expected to directly interact with Pax6 in known binding modes suggesting structural reconfigurations. Re-analysis of ChIP-seq data identified several genomic regions where the cooperativity promoting sequence pattern is co-bound by Sox2 and Pax6. A highly conserved Sox2/Pax6 bound site near the Sprouty2 locus was verified to promote cooperative dimerization designating Sprouty2 as a potential target reliant on Sox2/Pax6 cooperativity in several neural cell types. Collectively, the functional interplay of Sox2 and Pax6 demands the relaxation of high-affinity binding sites and is enabled by alternative DNA sequences. We conclude that this binding mode evolved to warrant that a subset of target genes is only regulated in the presence of suitable partner factors.
Keywords: Coop-seq; Pax6; Sox2; cooperativity; deep sequencing; gene regulation; transcription factors.
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