BackgroundUbiquitously expressed CTCF is involved in numerous cellular functions, such as organizing chromatin into TAD structures. In contrast, its paralog, CTCFL, is normally only present in the testis. However, it is also aberrantly expressed in many cancers. While it is known that shared and unique zinc finger sequences in CTCF and CTCFL enable CTCFL to bind competitively to a subset of CTCF binding sites as well as its own unique locations, the impact of CTCFL on chromosome organization and gene expression has not been comprehensively analyzed in the context of CTCF function. Using an inducible complementation system, we analyze the impact of expressing CTCFL and CTCF-CTCFL chimeric proteins in the presence or absence of endogenous CTCF to clarify the relative and combined contribution of CTCF and CTCFL to chromosome organization and transcription.ResultsWe demonstrate that the N terminus of CTCF interacts with cohesin which explains the requirement for convergent CTCF binding sites in loop formation. By analyzing CTCF and CTCFL binding in tandem, we identify phenotypically distinct sites with respect to motifs, targeting to promoter/intronic intergenic regions and chromatin folding. Finally, we reveal that the N, C, and zinc finger terminal domains play unique roles in targeting each paralog to distinct binding sites to regulate transcription, chromatin looping, and insulation.ConclusionThis study clarifies the unique and combined contribution of CTCF and CTCFL to chromosome organization and transcription, with direct implications for understanding how their co-expression deregulates transcription in cancer.