In vivo characterization of a vertebrate ultraconserved enhancer

Genomics. 2005 Jun;85(6):774-81. doi: 10.1016/j.ygeno.2005.03.003. Epub 2005 Apr 15.


Genomic sequence comparisons among human, mouse, and pufferfish (Takifugu rubripes (Fugu)) have revealed a set of extremely conserved noncoding sequences. While this high degree of sequence conservation suggests severe evolutionary constraint and predicts a lack of tolerance to change to retain in vivo functionality, such elements have been minimally explored experimentally. In this study, we describe the in-depth characterization of an ancient conserved enhancer, Dc2, located near the dachshund gene, which displays a human-Fugu identity of 84% over 424 basepairs (bp). In addition to this large overall conservation, we find that Dc2 is characterized by the presence of a large block of sequence (144 bp) that is completely identical among human, mouse, chicken, zebrafish, and Fugu. Through the testing of reporter vector constructs in transgenic mice, we observed that the 424-bp Dc2-conserved element is necessary and sufficient for brain tissue enhancer activity. In vivo analyses also revealed that the 144-bp 100% conserved sequence is necessary, but not sufficient, to replicate Dc2 enhancer function. However, the introduction of two separate 16-bp insertions into the highly conserved enhancer core did not cause any detectable modification of its in vivo activity. Our observations indicate that the 144-bp 100% conserved element is tolerant of change at least at the resolution of this transgenic mouse assay and suggest that purifying selection on the Dc2 sequence might not be as strong as we predicted or that some unknown property also constrains this highly conserved enhancer sequence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nuclear Proteins / genetics*
  • Takifugu / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors


  • DACH2 protein, human
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Dach2 protein, mouse
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Transcription Factors