Nrf2-small Maf heterodimer activates the transcription of many cytoprotective genes through the antioxidant response element and serves as a key factor in xenobiotic and oxidative stress responses. Our surface plasmon resonance-microarray binding analysis revealed that both Nrf2-MafG heterodimer and MafG homodimer bind to the consensus Maf recognition element with high affinity but bind differentially to the suboptimal binding sequences degenerated from the consensus. We examined the molecular basis distinguishing the binding profile of Nrf2-MafG heterodimer from that of MafG homodimer and found that the Ala-502 residue in the basic region of Nrf2 is a critical determinant of its binding specificity. In Maf proteins, a tyrosine resides in the position corresponding to Ala-502 in Nrf2. We prepared a mutant Nrf2 molecule in which Ala-502 was replaced with tyrosine. In surface plasmon resonance-microarray analysis, heterodimer of Nrf2(A502Y) and MafG displayed a binding specificity similar to that of MafG homodimer. The target genes activated by mutant Nrf2(A502Y)-small Maf heterodimer were largely different, albeit with some overlap, from those activated by wild-type Nrf2-small Maf, indicating that the array of target genes regulated by Nrf2-small Maf heterodimer differs substantially from that regulated by Maf homodimer in vivo. These results suggest that the distinct DNA binding profile of Nrf2-Maf heterodimer is biologically significant for Nrf2 to function as a key regulator of cytoprotective genes. Our contention is supported that the differential DNA binding specificity between Maf homodimers and Nrf2-Maf heterodimers establishes the differential gene regulation by these dimer-forming transcription factors.