Multiple steps in the regulation of transcription-factor level and activity

Biochem J. 1996 Jul 15;317 ( Pt 2)(Pt 2):329-42. doi: 10.1042/bj3170329.


This review focuses on the regulation of transcription factors, many of which are DNA-binding proteins that recognize cis-regulatory elements of target genes and are the most direct regulators of gene transcription. Transcription factors serve as integration centres of the different signal-transduction pathways affecting a given gene. It is obvious that the regulation of these regulators themselves is of crucial importance for differential gene expression during development and in terminally differentiated cells. Transcription factors can be regulated at two, principally different, levels, namely concentration and activity, each of which can be modulated in a variety of ways. The concentrations of transcription factors, as of intracellular proteins in general, may be regulated at any of the steps leading from DNA to protein, including transcription, RNA processing, mRNA degradation and translation. The activity of a transcription factor is often regulated by (de) phosphorylation, which may affect different functions, e.g. nuclear localization DNA binding and trans-activation. Ligand binding is another mode of transcription-factor activation. It is typical for the large super-family of nuclear hormone receptors. Heterodimerization between transcription factors adds another dimension to the regulatory diversity and signal integration. Finally, non-DNA-binding (accessory) factors may mediate a diverse range of functions, e.g. serving as a bridge between the transcription factor and the basal transcription machinery, stabilizing the DNA-binding complex or changing the specificity of the target sequence recognition. The present review presents an overview of different modes of transcription-factor regulation, each illustrated by typical examples.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Transcription Factors