Somatic mutations in regulatory sites of human stem cells affect cell identity or cause malignant transformation. By mining the human genome for co-occurrence of mutations and transcription factor binding sites, we show that C/EBP binding sites are strongly enriched with [C > T]G mutations in cancer and adult stem cells, which is of special interest because C/EBPs regulate cell fate and differentiation. In vitro protein-DNA binding assay and structural modeling of the CEBPB-DNA complex show that the G·T mismatch in the core CG dinucleotide strongly enhances affinity of the binding site. We conclude that enhanced binding of C/EBPs shields CpG·TpG mismatches from DNA repair, leading to selective accumulation of [C > T]G mutations and consequent deterioration of the binding sites. This mechanism of targeted mutagenesis highlights the effect of a mutational process on certain regulatory sites and reveals the molecular basis of putative regulatory alterations in stem cells.
Keywords: C/EBP; CEBPB; CpG methylation; DNA mismatch; adult stem cells; cancer cells; somatic mutagenesis; somatic mutations; transcription factor binding sites.
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