The first enhancer in an enhancer chain safeguards subsequent enhancer-promoter contacts from a distance

Wei Song, Roded Sharan, Ivan Ovcharenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Robustness and evolutionary stability of gene expression in the human genome are established by an array of redundant enhancers. Results: Using Hi-C data in multiple cell lines, we report a comprehensive map of promoters and active enhancers connected by chromatin contacts, spanning 9000 enhancer chains in 4 human cell lines associated with 2600 human genes. We find that the first enhancer in a chain that directly contacts the target promoter is commonly located at a greater genomic distance from the promoter than the second enhancer in a chain, 96 kb vs. 45 kb, respectively. The first enhancer also features higher similarity to the promoter in terms of tissue specificity and higher enrichment of loop factors, suggestive of a stable primary contact with the promoter. In contrast, a chain of enhancers which connects to the target promoter through a neutral DNA segment instead of an enhancer is associated with a significant decrease in target gene expression, suggesting an important role of the first enhancer in initiating transcription using the target promoter and bridging the promoter with other regulatory elements in the locus. Conclusions: The widespread chained structure of gene enhancers in humans reveals that the primary, critical enhancer is distal, commonly located further away than other enhancers. This first, distal enhancer establishes contacts with multiple regulatory elements and safeguards a complex regulatory program of its target gene.

Original languageEnglish
Article number197
Issue number1
StatePublished - 12 Sep 2019


  • Enhancer chain
  • First distal enhancer
  • Redundant enhancers

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Cell Biology


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