Members of the ETS family of transcription factors are involved in several developmental and physiological processes, and, when overexpressed or misexpressed, can contribute to a variety of cancers. Each family member has a conserved DNA-binding domain that recognizes DNA sequences containing a G-G-A trinucleotide. Discrimination between potential ETS-binding sites appears to be governed by both the nucleotides flanking the G-G-A sequence and protein-protein interactions. We have used an adaptation of the "length-encoded multiplex" approach (Desjarlais, J. R., and Berg, J. M. (1994) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 91, 11099-11103) to define DNA binding specificities for four ETS proteins: Fli-1, SAP-1, PU.1, and TEL. Our results support a model in which cooperative effects among neighboring bases flanking the central G-G-A site contribute to the formation of stable ETS/DNA complexes. These results are consistent with a mechanism for specific DNA binding that is partially governed by an indirect read-out of the DNA sequence, in which a sequence-specific DNA conformation is sensed or induced.