Signaling pathways are intimately involved in cellular differentiation, allowing cells to respond to their environment by regulating gene expression. Although enhancers are recognized as key elements that regulate selective gene expression, the interplay between signaling pathways and actively used enhancer elements is not clear. Here, we use CD4(+) T cells as a model of differentiation, mapping the activity of cell-type-specific enhancer elements in T helper 1 (Th1) and Th2 cells. Our data establish that STAT proteins have a major impact on the activation of lineage-specific enhancers and the suppression of enhancers associated with alternative cell fates. Transcriptome analysis further supports a functional role for enhancers regulated by STATs. Importantly, expression of lineage-defining master regulators in STAT-deficient cells fails to fully recover the chromatin signature of STAT-dependent enhancers. Thus, these findings point to a critical role of STATs as environmental sensors in dynamically molding the specialized enhancer architecture of differentiating cells.
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