The early discovery of cis-regulatory elements able to promote transcription of genes over large distances led to the postulate that elements, termed insulators, should also exist that would limit the action of enhancers, LCRs and silencers to defined domains. Such insulators were indeed found during the past fifteen years in a wide range of organisms, from yeast to humans. Recent advances point to an important role of transcription factors in insulator activity and demonstrate that the operational observation of an insulator effect relies on a delicate balance between the "efficiency" of the insulator and that of the element to be counteracted. In addition, genuine insulator elements now appear less common than initially envisaged, and they are only found at loci displaying a high density of coding or regulatory information. Where this is not the case, chromatin domains of opposing properties are thought to confront each other at "fuzzy" boundaries. In this article, we propose models for both fixed and fuzzy boundaries that incorporate probabilistic and dynamic parameters.
Copyright 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.