The t(1;19) chromosomal translocation of pediatric pre-B cell leukemia produces chimeric oncoprotein E2a-Pbx1, which contains the N-terminal transactivation domain of the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor, E2a, joined to the majority of the homeodomain protein, Pbx1. There are three Pbx family members, which bind DNA as heterodimers with both broadly expressed Meis/Prep1 homeodomain proteins and specifically expressed Hox homeodomain proteins. These Pbx heterodimers can augment the function of transcriptional activators bound to adjacent elements. In heterodimers, a conserved tryptophan motif in Hox proteins binds a pocket on the surface of the Pbx homeodomain, while Meis/Prep1 proteins bind an N-terminal Pbx domain, raising the possibility that the tryptophan-interaction pocket of the Pbx component of a Pbx-Meis/Prep1 complex is still available to bind tryptophan motifs of other transcription factors bound to flanking elements. Here, we report that Pbx-Meis1/Prep1 binds DNA cooperatively with heterodimers of E2a and MyoD, myogenin, Mrf-4 or Myf-5. As with Hox proteins, a highly conserved tryptophan motif N-terminal to the DNA-binding domains of each myogenic bHLH family protein is required for cooperative DNA binding with Pbx-Meis1/Prep1. In vivo, MyoD requires this tryptophan motif to evoke chromatin remodeling in the Myogenin promoter and to activate Myogenin transcription. Pbx-Meis/Prep1 complexes, therefore, have the potential to cooperate with the myogenic bHLH proteins in regulating gene transcription.
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