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Bidirectional transcription initiation marks accessible chromatin and is not specific to enhancers

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Original languageEnglish
Article number242
Number of pages11
JournalGenome Biology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2017


Background: Enhancers are modular regulatory elements that are central to the spatial and temporal regulation of gene expression. Bidirectional transcription initiating at enhancers has been proposed to mark active enhancers and as such has been utilized to experimentally identify active enhancers de novo.

Results: Here, we show that bidirectional transcription initiation is a pervasive feature of accessible chromatin, including at enhancers, promoters, and other DNase hypersensitive regions not marked with canonical histone modification profiles. Transcription is less predictive for enhancer activity than epigenetic modifications such as H3K4me1 or the accessibility of DNA when measured both in enhancer assays and at endogenous loci. The stability of enhancer initiated transcripts does not influence measures of enhancer activity and we cannot detect evidence of purifying selection on the resulting enhancer RNAs within the human population.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that bidirectional transcription initiation from accessible chromatin is not sufficient for, nor specific to, enhancer activity. Transcription initiating at enhancers may be a frequent by-product of promiscuous RNA polymerase initiation at accessible chromatin and is unlikely to generally play a functional role in enhancer activity.

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