Transcription factors: Bridge between cell signaling and gene regulation

Proteomics. 2021 Dec;21(23-24):e2000034. doi: 10.1002/pmic.202000034. Epub 2021 Aug 9.


Transcription factors (TFs) are key regulators of intrinsic cellular processes, such as differentiation and development, and of the cellular response to external perturbation through signaling pathways. In this review we focus on the role of TFs as a link between signaling pathways and gene regulation. Cell signaling tends to result in the modulation of a set of TFs that then lead to changes in the cell's transcriptional program. We highlight the molecular layers at which TF activity can be measured and the associated technical and conceptual challenges. These layers include post-translational modifications (PTMs) of the TF, regulation of TF binding to DNA through chromatin accessibility and epigenetics, and expression of target genes. We highlight that a large number of TFs are understudied in both signaling and gene regulation studies, and that our knowledge about known TF targets has a strong literature bias. We argue that TFs serve as a perfect bridge between the fields of gene regulation and signaling, and that separating these fields hinders our understanding of cell functions. Multi-omics approaches that measure multiple dimensions of TF activity are ideally suited to study the interplay of cell signaling and gene regulation using TFs as the anchor to link the two fields.

Keywords: gene regulation; gene regulatory networks; literature bias; multiomics; postranslational modifications; signaling; transcription factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromatin
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Protein Binding
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Transcription Factors* / metabolism


  • Chromatin
  • Transcription Factors