Recent progress in the analysis of transcriptional regulation has revealed the presence of an exquisite functional network comprising the Maf and Cap 'n' collar (CNC) families of regulatory proteins, many of which have been isolated. Among Maf factors, large Maf proteins are important in the regulation of embryonic development and cell differentiation, whereas small Maf proteins serve as obligatory heterodimeric partner molecules for members of the CNC family. Both Maf homodimers and CNC-small Maf heterodimers bind to the Maf recognition element (MARE). Since the MARE contains a consensus TRE sequence recognized by AP-1, Jun and Fos family members may act to compete or interfere with the function of CNC-small Maf heterodimers. Overall then, the quantitative balance of transcription factors interacting with the MARE determines its transcriptional activity. Many putative MARE-dependent target genes such as those induced by antioxidants and oxidative stress are under concerted regulation by the CNC family member Nrf2, as clearly proven by mouse germline mutagenesis. Since these genes represent a vital aspect of the cellular defense mechanism against oxidative stress, Nrf2-null mutant mice are highly sensitive to xenobiotic and oxidative insults. Deciphering the molecular basis of the regulatory network composed of Maf and CNC families of transcription factors will undoubtedly lead to a new paradigm for the cooperative function of transcription factors.
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