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PLoS Genet. 2014 Jan;10(1):e1004060. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004060. Epub 2014 Jan 2.

Subtle changes in motif positioning cause tissue-specific effects on robustness of an enhancer's activity.

Author information

1
Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany.
2
Genome Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany ; Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany.
3
Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany.

Abstract

Deciphering the specific contribution of individual motifs within cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) is crucial to understanding how gene expression is regulated and how this process is affected by sequence variation. But despite vast improvements in the ability to identify where transcription factors (TFs) bind throughout the genome, we are limited in our ability to relate information on motif occupancy to function from sequence alone. Here, we engineered 63 synthetic CRMs to systematically assess the relationship between variation in the content and spacing of motifs within CRMs to CRM activity during development using Drosophila transgenic embryos. In over half the cases, very simple elements containing only one or two types of TF binding motifs were capable of driving specific spatio-temporal patterns during development. Different motif organizations provide different degrees of robustness to enhancer activity, ranging from binary on-off responses to more subtle effects including embryo-to-embryo and within-embryo variation. By quantifying the effects of subtle changes in motif organization, we were able to model biophysical rules that explain CRM behavior and may contribute to the spatial positioning of CRM activity in vivo. For the same enhancer, the effects of small differences in motif positions varied in developmentally related tissues, suggesting that gene expression may be more susceptible to sequence variation in one tissue compared to another. This result has important implications for human eQTL studies in which many associated mutations are found in cis-regulatory regions, though the mechanism for how they affect tissue-specific gene expression is often not understood.

PMID:
24391522
PMCID:
PMC3879207
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pgen.1004060
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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