Distribution of labor among bZIP segments in the control of DNA affinity and specificity

Chem Biol. 1994 Nov;1(3):143-51. doi: 10.1016/1074-5521(94)90004-3.


Background: The basic region-leucine zipper (bZIP) family of proteins use an atypically simple motif for DNA recognition, yet family members discriminate differently between target sites that differ only in half-site spacing. Two such sites are the cAMP-response element (CRE) and the AP-1 target site. Fos/Jun prefers the AP-1 site (ATGACTCAT), while CRE-BP1 prefers CRE (ATGACGTCAT), and GCN4 binds both sites with equal affinity. We therefore asked what determines the relative specificity for CRE and AP-1 sites in bZIP proteins.

Results: Here we show that CRE/AP-1 specificity in CRE-BP1 is encoded within the spacer and basic segments of the bZIP element. Of these two regions, the basic segment is the more important. This specificity is in part achieved at the expense of affinity.

Conclusions: The small size and simplicity of the bZIP recognition helix was already unusual; our findings show that the information that determines the target site specificity of members of the bZIP family of proteins is even more condensed than expected. These results suggest that it may be possible to design surprisingly small proteins that bind DNA with high sequence specificity, although it may be more difficult to achieve high-affinity binding in small proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • DNA / physiology
  • Leucine Zippers / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Conformation
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / metabolism


  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • DNA