Enhancer loops appear stable during development and are associated with paused polymerase

Nature. 2014 Aug 7;512(7512):96-100. doi: 10.1038/nature13417. Epub 2014 Jul 2.


Developmental enhancers initiate transcription and are fundamental to our understanding of developmental networks, evolution and disease. Despite their importance, the properties governing enhancer-promoter interactions and their dynamics during embryogenesis remain unclear. At the β-globin locus, enhancer-promoter interactions appear dynamic and cell-type specific, whereas at the HoxD locus they are stable and ubiquitous, being present in tissues where the target genes are not expressed. The extent to which preformed enhancer-promoter conformations exist at other, more typical, loci and how transcription is eventually triggered is unclear. Here we generated a high-resolution map of enhancer three-dimensional contacts during Drosophila embryogenesis, covering two developmental stages and tissue contexts, at unprecedented resolution. Although local regulatory interactions are common, long-range interactions are highly prevalent within the compact Drosophila genome. Each enhancer contacts multiple enhancers, and promoters with similar expression, suggesting a role in their co-regulation. Notably, most interactions appear unchanged between tissue context and across development, arising before gene activation, and are frequently associated with paused RNA polymerase. Our results indicate that the general topology governing enhancer contacts is conserved from flies to humans and suggest that transcription initiates from preformed enhancer-promoter loops through release of paused polymerase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Chromosomes, Insect / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Insect / metabolism
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / embryology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / enzymology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Embryonic Development / genetics*
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Genetic Loci / genetics
  • Genome, Insect / genetics
  • Humans
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics*
  • Transcription Initiation, Genetic
  • Transcriptional Activation


  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases