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Nucleic Acids Res. 2018 Nov 16;46(20):10796-10809. doi: 10.1093/nar/gky891.

Progressing super-enhancer landscape during mammary differentiation controls tissue-specific gene regulation.

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Laboratory of Genetics and Physiology, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
Department of Biomedical Science and Engineering, Konkuk University, Seoul 05029, Republic of Korea.
Transgenic Core, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


The mammary luminal lineage relies on the common cytokine-sensing transcription factor STAT5 to establish super-enhancers during pregnancy and initiate a genetic program that activates milk production. As pups grow, the greatly increasing demand for milk requires progressive differentiation of mammary cells with advancing lactation. Here we investigate how persistent hormonal exposure during lactation shapes an evolving enhancer landscape and impacts the biology of mammary cells. Employing ChIP-seq, we uncover a changing transcription factor occupancy at mammary enhancers, suggesting that their activities evolve with advancing differentiation. Using mouse genetics, we demonstrate that the functions of individual enhancers within the Wap super-enhancer evolve as lactation progresses. Most profoundly, a seed enhancer, which is mandatory for the activation of the Wap super-enhancer during pregnancy, is not required during lactation, suggesting compensatory flexibility. Combinatorial deletions of structurally equivalent constituent enhancers demonstrated differentiation-specific compensatory activities during lactation. We also demonstrate that the Wap super-enhancer, which is built on STAT5 and other common transcription factors, retains its exquisite mammary specificity when placed into globally permissive chromatin, suggesting a limited role of chromatin in controlling cell specificity. Our studies unveil a previously unrecognized progressive enhancer landscape where structurally equivalent components serve unique and differentiation-specific functions.

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