Transcription factors organize into functional groups on the linear genome and in 3D chromatin

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Transcription factors (TFs) and their binding sites have evolved to interact cooperatively or competitively with each other. Here we examine in detail, across multiple cell lines, such cooperation or competition among TFs both in sequential and spatial proximity (using chromatin conformation capture assays) on one hand, and based on both in vivo binding as well as TF binding motifs on the other. We ascertain significantly co-occurring (“attractive”) or avoiding (“repulsive”) TF pairs using robust randomized models that retain the essential characteristics of the experimental data. Across human cell lines TFs organize into two groups, with intra-group attraction and inter-group repulsion. This is true for both sequential and spatial proximity, as well as for both in vivo binding and motifs. Attractive TF pairs exhibit significantly more physical interactions suggesting an underlying mechanism. The two TF groups differ significantly in their genomic and network properties, as well in their function—while one group regulates housekeeping function, the other potentially regulates lineage-specific functions, that are disrupted in cancer. We also show that weaker binding sites tend to occur in spatially interacting regions of the genome. Our results suggest a complex pattern of spatial cooperativity of TFs that has evolved along with the genome to support housekeeping and lineage-specific functions.