The discovery of cis-element control motifs in noncoding DNA poses a difficult problem in genome analysis. Functional analysis by means of reporter constructs expressed in transgenic organisms is the most reliable method, but is by itself time-consuming and expensive. Searching noncoding DNA for known control motifs by sequence analysis is problematic, since protein binding motifs are short, in the range of 8-10 bp, and occur frequently by chance. Heretofore, the most reliable sequence analysis method has been the comparison of homologous sequence domains in related but moderately evolutionarily divergent species such as, for example, mouse and human. In such pairwise combinations, control regions are conserved because they serve a vital function and can be identified by their similar sequences. Single pairwise comparisons, however, allow the discovery of conserved sequence strings only at low resolution and without specific identity. We have investigated the possibility of using multiple sequence comparisons to correct these shortcomings. We applied this method to the Hoxc8 early enhancer region that has been previously analyzed in depth by functional methods and through its application successfully identified known protein binding cis-element motifs. Candidate protein binding sites could also be identified. This method, based on evolutionarily related sequence comparisons, should be quite useful as a prescreening step prior to functional analysis with corresponding savings in time and resources.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.