Ji Q, Fischer AL, Brown CR, Eastlund ER, Dvash T, Zhong B, Gerber MA, Lyons I, Knight SW, Kreader CA
Artificial transcription factors are powerful tools for regulating gene expression. Here we report results with engineered zinc-finger transcription factors (ZF-TFs) targeting four protein-coding genes, OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and c-MYC, and one noncoding ribonucleic acid (RNA) gene, the microRNA (miRNA) miR302/367 cluster. We designed over 300 ZF-TFs whose targets lie within 1 kb of the transcriptional start sites (TSSs), screened them for increased messenger RNA or miRNA levels in transfected cells, and identified potent ZF-TF activators for each gene. Furthermore, we demonstrate that selected ZF-TFs function with alternative activation domains and in multiple cell lines. For OCT4, we expanded the target range to -2.5 kb and +500 bp relative to the TSS and identified additional active ZF-TFs, including three highly active ZF-TFs targeting distal enhancer, proximal enhancer and downstream from the proximal promoter. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (FLAG-ChIP) results indicate that several inactive ZF-TFs targeting within the same regulatory region bind as well as the most active ZF-TFs, suggesting that efficient binding within one of these regulatory regions may be necessary but not sufficient for activation. These results further our understanding of ZF-TF design principles and corroborate the use of ZF-TFs targeting enhancers and downstream from the TSS for transcriptional activation.