Gene expression programs are established by networks of interacting transcription factors. The basic helix-loop-helix factor SCL and the LIM-only protein LMO2 are components of transcription factor complexes that are essential for hematopoiesis. Here we show that LMO2 and SCL are predominant interaction partners in hematopoietic cells and that this interaction occurs through a conserved interface residing in the loop and helix 2 of SCL. This interaction nucleates the assembly of SCL complexes on DNA and is required for target gene induction and for the stimulation of erythroid and megakaryocytic differentiation. We also demonstrate that SCL determines LMO2 protein levels in hematopoietic cells and reveal that interaction with SCL prevents LMO2 degradation by the proteasome. We propose that the SCL-LMO2 interaction couples protein stabilization with higher order protein complex assembly, thus providing a powerful means of modulating the stoichiometry and spatiotemporal activity of SCL complexes. This interaction likely provides a rate-limiting step in the transcriptional control of hematopoiesis and leukemia, and similar mechanisms may operate to control the assembly of diverse protein modules.
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