Cellular proliferation, specification and differentiation in developing tissues are tightly coordinated by groups of transcription factors in response to extrinsic and intrinsic signals. Furthermore, renewable pools of stem cells in adult tissues are subject to similar regulation. Basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) proteins are a group of transcription factors that exert such a determinative influence on a variety of developmental pathways from C. elegans to humans, and we wished to exclusively identify novel members from within the whole human bHLH family. We have, therefore, developed an 'empirical custom fingerprint', to define the class II bHLH domain and exclusively identify these proteins in silico. We have identified nine previously uncharacterised human class II proteins, four of which were novel, by interrogating conceptual translations of the GenBank HTGS database. RT-PCR and mammalian 2-hybrid analysis of a subset of the factors demonstrated that they were indeed expressed, and were able to interact with an appropriate binding partner in vitro. Thus, we are now approaching an almost complete listing of human class II bHLH factors.
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