Large Maf Transcription Factors: Cousins of AP-1 Proteins and Important Regulators of Cellular Differentiation

Ying Yang, Ales Cvekl


A large number of mammalian transcription factors possess the evolutionary conserved basic and leucine zipper domain (bZIP). The basic domain interacts with DNA while the leucine zipper facilitates homo- and hetero- dimerization. These factors can be grouped into at least seven families: AP-1, ATF/CREB, CNC, C/EBP, Maf, PAR, and virus-encoded bZIPs. Here, we focus on a group of four large Maf proteins: MafA, MafB, c-Maf, and NRL. They act as key regulators of terminal differentiation in many tissues such as bone, brain, kidney, lens, pancreas, and retina, as well as in blood. The DNA-binding mechanism of large Mafs involves cooperation between the basic domain and an adjacent ancillary DNA-binding domain. Many genes regulated by Mafs during cellular differentiation use functional interactions between the Pax/Maf, Sox/Maf, and Ets/Maf promoter and enhancer modules. The prime examples are crystallin genes in lens and glucagon and insulin in pancreas. Novel roles for large Mafs emerged from studying generations of MafA and MafB knockouts and analysis of combined phenotypes in double or triple null mice. In addition, studies of this group of factors in invertebrates revealed the evolutionarily conserved function of these genes in the development of multicellular organisms.


transcription factors; bZIP; DNA; Maf; AP-1; cellular differentiation; development

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