TEL is a novel member of the ETS family of transcriptional regulators which is frequently involved in human leukemias as the result of specific chromosomal translocations. We show here by co-immunoprecipitation and GST chromatography analyses that TEL and TEL-derived fusion proteins form homotypic oligomers in vitro and in vivo. Deletion mutagenesis identifies the TEL oligomerization domain as a 65 amino acid region which is conserved in a subset of the ETS proteins including ETS-1, ETS-2, FLI-1, ERG-2 and GABP alpha in vertebrates and PNTP2, YAN and ELG in Drosophila. TEL-induced oligomerization is shown to be essential for the constitutive activation of the protein kinase activity and mitogenic properties of TEL-platelet derived growth factor receptor beta (PDGFR beta), a fusion oncoprotein characteristic of the leukemic cells of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia harboring a t(5;12) chromosomal translocation. Swapping experiments in which the TEL oligomerization domain was exchanged by the homologous domains of representative vertebrate ETS proteins including ETS-1, ERG-2 and GABP alpha show that oligomerization is a specific property of the TEL amino-terminal conserved domain. These results indicate that the amino-terminal domain conserved in a subset of the ETS proteins has evolved to generate a specialized protein-protein interaction interface which is likely to be an important determinant of their specificity as transcriptional regulators.