Transcription factor (TF) recognition is dictated by the underlying DNA motif sequence specific for each TF. Here, we reveal that DNA sequence repeat symmetry plays a central role in defining TF-DNA-binding preferences. In particular, we find that different TFs bind similar symmetry patterns in the context of different developmental layers. Most TFs possess dominant preferences for similar DNA repeat symmetry types. However, in some cases, preferences of specific TFs are changed during differentiation, suggesting the importance of information encoded outside of known motif regions. Histone modifications also exhibit strong preferences for similar DNA repeat symmetry patterns unique to each type of modification. Next, using an in vivo reporter assay, we show that gene expression in embryonic stem cells can be positively modulated by the presence of genomic and computationally designed DNA oligonucleotides containing identified nonconsensus-repetitive sequence elements. This supports the hypothesis that certain nonconsensus-repetitive patterns possess a functional ability to regulate gene expression. We also performed a solution NMR experiment to probe the stability of double-stranded DNA via imino proton resonances for several double-stranded DNA sequences characterized by different repetitive patterns. We suggest that such local stability might play a key role in determining TF-DNA binding preferences. Overall, our findings show that despite the enormous sequence complexity of the TF-DNA binding landscape in differentiating embryonic stem cells, this landscape can be quantitatively characterized in simple terms using the notion of DNA sequence repeat symmetry.
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