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Functional effects of variation in transcription factor binding highlight long-range gene regulation by epromoters

By Joanna Mitchelmore, Nastasiya F. Grinberg, Chris Wallace, Mikhail spivakov

Posted 29 Apr 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/620062 (published DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkaa123)

Identifying DNA cis-regulatory modules (CRMs) that control the expression of specific genes is crucial for deciphering the logic of transcriptional control. Natural genetic variation can point to the possible gene regulatory function of specific sequences through their allelic associations with gene expression. However, comprehensive identification of causal regulatory sequences in brute-force association testing without incorporating prior knowledge is challenging due to limited statistical power and effects of linkage disequilibrium. Sequence variants affecting transcription factor (TF) binding at CRMs have a strong potential to influence gene regulatory function, which provides a motivation for prioritising such variants in association testing. Here, we generate an atlas of CRMs showing predicted allelic variation in TF binding affinity in human lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) and test their association with the expression of their putative target genes inferred inferred from Promoter Capture Hi-C and immediate linear proximity. We reveal over 1300 CRM TF-binding variants associated with target gene expression, the majority of them undetected with standard association testing. A large proportion of CRMs showing associations with the expression of genes they contact in 3D localise to the promoter regions of other genes, supporting the notion of 'epromoters': dual-action CRMs with promoter and distal enhancer activity.

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