Almost 30% of patients with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) bear structural alterations of tal-1, a presumptive proto-oncogene that encodes sequences homologous to the helix-loop-helix (HLH) DNA-binding and dimerization domain. Analysis of the tal-1 gene product reveals that its HLH domain mediates protein-protein interactions with either of the ubiquitously expressed HLH proteins E47 and E12. The resultant tal-1/E47 and tal-1/E12 heterodimers specifically recognize the E-box DNA sequence motif found in eucaryotic transcriptional enhancers. Hence, the tal-1 protein shares biochemical properties with other tissue-specific HLH proteins that control cell type determination during myogenesis (e.g., MyoD1) and neurogenesis (e.g., achaete-scute). The data suggest that HLH heterodimers involving tal-1 may function in vivo as transcriptional regulatory factors that influence cell type determination during hematopoietic development.