Long-range control of gene expression: emerging mechanisms and disruption in disease

Am J Hum Genet. 2005 Jan;76(1):8-32. doi: 10.1086/426833. Epub 2004 Nov 17.


Transcriptional control is a major mechanism for regulating gene expression. The complex machinery required to effect this control is still emerging from functional and evolutionary analysis of genomic architecture. In addition to the promoter, many other regulatory elements are required for spatiotemporally and quantitatively correct gene expression. Enhancer and repressor elements may reside in introns or up- and downstream of the transcription unit. For some genes with highly complex expression patterns--often those that function as key developmental control genes--the cis-regulatory domain can extend long distances outside the transcription unit. Some of the earliest hints of this came from disease-associated chromosomal breaks positioned well outside the relevant gene. With the availability of wide-ranging genome sequence comparisons, strong conservation of many noncoding regions became obvious. Functional studies have shown many of these conserved sites to be transcriptional regulatory elements that sometimes reside inside unrelated neighboring genes. Such sequence-conserved elements generally harbor sites for tissue-specific DNA-binding proteins. Developmentally variable chromatin conformation can control protein access to these sites and can regulate transcription. Disruption of these finely tuned mechanisms can cause disease. Some regulatory element mutations will be associated with phenotypes distinct from any identified for coding-region mutations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromatin / ultrastructure*
  • Chromosome Aberrations*
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Regulator
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Sex Determination Processes


  • Chromatin
  • DNA Transposable Elements