The t(17;19) translocation in acute lymphoblastic leukemias results in creation of E2A-hepatic leukemia factor (HLF) chimeric proteins that contain the DNA-binding and protein dimerization domains of the basic leucine zipper (bZIP) protein HLF fused to a portion of E2A proteins with transcriptional activation properties. An in vitro binding site selection procedure was used to determine DNA sequences preferentially bound by wild-type HLF and chimeric E2A-HLF proteins isolated from various t(17;19)-bearing leukemias. All were found to selectively bind the consensus sequence 5'-GTTACGTAAT-3' with high affinity. Wild-type and chimeric HLF proteins also bound closely related sites identified previously for bZIP proteins of both the proline- and acidic amino acid-rich (PAR) and C/EBP subfamilies; however, E2A-HLF proteins were significantly less tolerant of certain deviations from the HLF consensus binding site. These differences were directly attributable to loss of an HLF ancillary DNA-binding domain in all E2A-HLF chimeras and were further exacerbated by a zipper mutation in one isolate. Both wild-type and chimeric HLF proteins displayed transcriptional activator properties in lymphoid and nonlymphoid cells on reporter genes containing HLF or C/EBP consensus binding sites. But on reporter genes with nonoptimal binding sites, their transcriptional properties diverged and E2A-HLF competitively inhibited activation by wild-type PAR proteins. These findings establish a spectrum of binding site-specific transcriptional properties for E2A-HLF which may preferentially activate expression of select subordinate genes as a homodimer and potentially antagonize expression of others through heteromeric interactions.