Transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) are short DNA sequences interacting with transcription factors (TFs), which regulate gene expression. Due to the relatively short length of such binding sites, it is largely unclear how the specificity of protein-DNA interaction is achieved. Here, we have performed a genome-wide analysis of TFBS-like sequences for the transcriptional repressor, RE1 Silencing Transcription Factor (REST), as well as for several other representative mammalian TFs (c-myc, p53, HNF-1 and CREB). We find a nonrandom distribution of inexact sites for these TFs, referred to as highly-degenerate TFBSs, that are enriched around the cognate binding sites. Comparisons among human, mouse and rat orthologous promoters reveal that these highly-degenerate sites are conserved significantly more than expected by random chance, suggesting their positive selection during evolution. We propose that this arrangement provides a favorable genomic landscape for functional target site selection.
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