Eukaryotic genomes contain numerous nonfunctional high-affinity sequences for transcription factors. These sequences potentially serve as natural decoys that sequester transcription factors. We have previously shown that the presence of sequences similar to the target sequence could substantially impede association of the transcription factor Egr-1 with its targets. In this study, using a stopped-flow fluorescence method, we examined the kinetic impact of DNA methylation of decoys on the search process of the Egr-1 zinc-finger protein. We analyzed its association with an unmethylated target site on fluorescence-labeled DNA in the presence of competitor DNA duplexes, including Egr-1 decoys. DNA methylation of decoys alone did not affect target search kinetics. In the presence of the MeCP2 methyl-CpG-binding domain (MBD), however, DNA methylation of decoys substantially (~10-30-fold) accelerated the target search process of the Egr-1 zinc-finger protein. This acceleration did not occur when the target was also methylated. These results suggest that when decoys are methylated, MBD proteins can block them and thereby allow Egr-1 to avoid sequestration in non-functional locations. This effect may occur in vivo for DNA methylation outside CpG islands (CGIs) and could facilitate localization of some transcription factors within regulatory CGIs, where DNA methylation is rare.
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