The Jun-Fos heterodimeric transcription factor is the terminal link between the transfer of extracellular information in the form of growth factors and cytokines to the site of DNA transcription within the nucleus in a wide variety of cellular processes central to health and disease. Here, using isothermal titration calorimetry, we report detailed thermodynamics of the binding of bZIP domains of Jun-Fos heterodimer to synthetic dsDNA oligos containing the TGACTCA cis element and all possible single nucleotide variants thereof encountered widely within the promoters of a diverse array of genes. Our data show that Jun-Fos heterodimer tolerates single nucleotide substitutions and binds to TGACTCA variants with affinities in the physiologically relevant micromolar to submicromolar range. The energetics of binding are richly favored by enthalpic forces and opposed by entropic changes across the entire spectrum of TGACTCA variants in agreement with the notion that protein-DNA interactions are largely driven by electrostatic interactions and intermolecular hydrogen bonding. Of particular interest is the observation that the Jun-Fos heterodimer binds to specific TGACTCA variants in a preferred orientation. Our 3D atomic models reveal that such orientational preference results from asymmetric binding and may in part be attributable to chemically distinct but structurally equivalent residues R263 and K148 located within the basic regions of Jun and Fos, respectively. Taken together, our data suggest that the single nucleotide variants of the TGACTCA motif modulate energetics and orientation of binding of the Jun-Fos heterodimer and that such behavior may be a critical determinant of differential regulation of specific genes under the control of this transcription factor. Our study also bears important consequences for the occurrence of single nucleotide polymorphisms within the TGACTCA cis element at specific gene promoters between different individuals.
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