Cis-regulatory elements: molecular mechanisms and evolutionary processes underlying divergence

Nat Rev Genet. 2011 Dec 6;13(1):59-69. doi: 10.1038/nrg3095.


Cis-regulatory sequences, such as enhancers and promoters, control development and physiology by regulating gene expression. Mutations that affect the function of these sequences contribute to phenotypic diversity within and between species. With many case studies implicating divergent cis-regulatory activity in phenotypic evolution, researchers have recently begun to elucidate the genetic and molecular mechanisms that are responsible for cis-regulatory divergence. Approaches include detailed functional analysis of individual cis-regulatory elements and comparing mechanisms of gene regulation among species using the latest genomic tools. Despite the limited number of mechanistic studies published to date, this work shows how cis-regulatory activity can diverge and how studies of cis-regulatory divergence can address long-standing questions about the genetic mechanisms of phenotypic evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Computational Biology
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Genome
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid* / genetics