Gene expression is determined by genomic elements called enhancers, which contain short motifs bound by different transcription factors (TFs). However, how enhancer sequences and TF motifs relate to enhancer activity is unknown, and general sequence requirements for enhancers or comprehensive sets of important enhancer sequence elements have remained elusive. Here, we computationally dissect thousands of functional enhancer sequences from three different Drosophila cell lines. We find that the enhancers display distinct cis-regulatory sequence signatures, which are predictive of the enhancers' cell type-specific or broad activities. These signatures contain transcription factor motifs and a novel class of enhancer sequence elements, dinucleotide repeat motifs (DRMs). DRMs are highly enriched in enhancers, particularly in enhancers that are broadly active across different cell types. We experimentally validate the importance of the identified TF motifs and DRMs for enhancer function and show that they can be sufficient to create an active enhancer de novo from a nonfunctional sequence. The function of DRMs as a novel class of general enhancer features that are also enriched in human regulatory regions might explain their implication in several diseases and provides important insights into gene regulation.
© 2014 Yáñez-Cuna et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.