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Open Access Methodology

A valid strategy for precise identifications of transcription factor binding sites in combinatorial regulation using bioinformatic and experimental approaches

Hailong Wang12, Shan Guan1, Zhixin Zhu12, Yan Wang1 and Yingqing Lu1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 20 Nan Xin Cun, Beijing 100093, China

2 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China

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Plant Methods 2013, 9:34  doi:10.1186/1746-4811-9-34

Published: 24 August 2013

Abstract

Background

Transcription factor (TF) binding sites (cis element) play a central role in gene regulation, and eukaryotic organisms frequently adapt a combinatorial regulation to render sophisticated local gene expression patterns. Knowing the precise cis element on a distal promoter is a prerequisite for studying a typical transcription process; however, identifications of cis elements have lagged behind those of their associated trans acting TFs due to technical difficulties. Consequently, gene regulations via combinatorial TFs, as widely observed across biological processes, have remained vague in many cases.

Results

We present here a valid strategy for identifying cis elements in combinatorial TF regulations. It consists of bioinformatic searches of available databases to generate candidate cis elements and tests of the candidates using improved experimental assays. Taking the MYB and the bHLH that collaboratively regulate the anthocyanin pathway genes as examples, we demonstrate how candidate cis motifs for the TFs are found on multi-specific promoters of chalcone synthase (CHS) genes, and how to experimentally test the candidate sites by designing DNA fragments hosting the candidate motifs based on a known promoter (us1 allele of Ipomoea purpurea CHS-D in our case) and applying site-mutagenesis at the motifs. It was shown that TF-DNA interactions could be unambiguously analyzed by assays of electrophoretic mobility shift (EMSA) and dual-luciferase transient expressions, and the resulting evidence precisely delineated a cis element. The cis element for R2R3 MYBs including Ipomoea MYB1 and Magnolia MYB1, for instance, was found to be ANCNACC, and that for bHLHs (exemplified by Ipomoea bHLH2 and petunia AN1) was CACNNG. A re-analysis was conducted on previously reported promoter segments recognized by maize C1 and apple MYB10, which indicated that cis elements similar to ANCNACC were indeed present on these segments, and tested positive for their bindings to Ipomoea MYB1.

Conclusion

Identification of cis elements in combinatorial regulation is now feasible with the strategy outlined. The working pipeline integrates the existing databases with experimental techniques, providing an open framework for precisely identifying cis elements. This strategy is widely applicable to various biological systems, and may enhance future analyses on gene regulation.

Keywords:
cis element; MYB; bHLH; EMSA; Dual-luciferase transient expression assay