Enhancers are critical regulators of gene expression and can be located far from their target gene. It is widely assumed that mechanisms of enhancer action involve reorganization of three-dimensional chromatin architecture, but this is poorly understood. Here we identify a novel mechanism of long-range enhancer associated chromatin reorganization. At the Sonic hedgehog (Shh) locus we observe large-scale decompaction of chromatin between Shh and its brain enhancers in neural progenitor cells. We show that the chromatin unfolding is dependent on activation of the enhancers, not the promoter, is impeded by chromatin-bound proteins located between the enhancer and promoter, and is mediated by the recruitment of Poly (ADP-Ribose) Polymerase 1. We suggest that large-scale chromatin decompaction, analogous to the inducible puffs in Drosophila polytene chromosomes, represents a new mechanism of chromatin reorganization coupled to long-range gene activation from mammalian enhancers and that seems incompatible with a chromatin-looping model of enhancer-promoter communication.
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