Helix-loop-helix (HLH) and helix-loop-helix-leucine zipper (HLHZip) are dimerization domains that mediate selective pairing among members of a large transcription factor family involved in cell fate determination. To investigate the molecular rules underlying recognition specificity and to isolate molecules interfering with cell proliferation and differentiation control, we assembled two molecular repertoires obtained by directed randomization of the binding surface in these two domains. For this strategy we selected the Heb HLH and Max Zip regions as molecular scaffolds for the randomization process and displayed the two resulting molecular repertoires on A phage capsids. By affinity selection, many domains were isolated that bound to the proteins Mad, Rox, MyoD, and Id2 with different levels of affinity. Although several residues along an extended surface within each domain appeared to contribute to dimerization, some key residues critically involved in molecular recognition could be identified. Furthermore, a number of charged residues appeared to act as switch points facilitating partner exchange. By successfully selecting ligands for four of four HLH or HLHZip proteins, we have shown that the repertoires assembled are rather general and possibly contain elements that bind with sufficient affinity to any natural HLH or HLHZip molecule. Thus they represent a valuable source of ligands that could be used as reagents for molecular dissection of functional regulatory pathways.
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