The ETS-domain transcription factor family can be divided into a series of subfamilies. Elk-1 represents the founding member of the ternary complex factor (TCF) subfamily. By focusing on the TCF subfamily, we can demonstrate the complexities that exist in the function and regulation of ETS-domain transcription factors. This article focuses on Elk-1 in detail and summarizes the functions of other TCFs. The key themes covered include the domain structure of the TCFs, the mechanisms of complex formation with serum response factor, regulation of TCFs by mitogen-activated protein kinase cascades, and transcriptional regulatory properties of the TCFs. Finally, the emerging role of the TCFs in vivo is discussed. A picture is developing indicating that, while these proteins exhibit significant sequence and functional conservation, key differences in their structure and regulation are being identified which may relate to unique functions of these proteins in vivo.

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