The Jun-Fos heterodimeric transcription factor is a target of a diverse array of signaling cascades that initiate at the cell surface and converge in the nucleus and ultimately result in the expression of genes involved in a multitude of cellular processes central to health and disease. Here, using isothermal titration calorimetry in conjunction with circular dichroism, we report the effect of introducing single nucleotide variations within the TGACGTCA canonical motif on the binding of bZIP domains of Jun-Fos heterodimer to DNA. Our data reveal that the Jun-Fos heterodimer exhibits differential energetics in binding to such genetic variants in the physiologically relevant micromolar to submicromolar range with the TGACGTCA canonical motif affording the highest affinity. Although binding energetics are largely favored by enthalpic forces and accompanied by entropic penalty, neither the favorable enthalpy nor the unfavorable entropy correlates with the overall free energy of binding in agreement with the enthalpy-entropy compensation phenomenon widely observed in biological systems. However, a number of variants including the TGACGTCA canonical motif bind to the Jun-Fos heterodimer with high affinity through having overcome such enthalpy-entropy compensation barrier, arguing strongly that better understanding of the underlying invisible forces driving macromolecular interactions may be the key to future drug design. Our data also suggest that the Jun-Fos heterodimer has a preference for binding to TGACGTCA variants with higher AT content, implying that the DNA plasticity may be an important determinant of protein-DNA interactions. This notion is further corroborated by the observation that the introduction of genetic variations within the TGACGTCA motif allows it to sample a much greater conformational space. Taken together, these new findings further our understanding of the role of DNA sequence and conformation on protein-DNA interactions in thermodynamic terms.
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