Promoter or enhancer, what's the difference? Deconstruction of established distinctions and presentation of a unifying model

Bioessays. 2015 Mar;37(3):314-23. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400162. Epub 2014 Dec 2.


Gene transcription is strictly controlled by the interplay of regulatory events at gene promoters and gene-distal regulatory elements called enhancers. Despite extensive studies of enhancers, we still have a very limited understanding of their mechanisms of action and their restricted spatio-temporal activities. A better understanding would ultimately lead to fundamental insights into the control of gene transcription and the action of regulatory genetic variants involved in disease. Here, I review and discuss pros and cons of state-of-the-art genomics methods to localize and infer the activity of enhancers. Among the different approaches, profiling of enhancer RNAs yields the highest specificity and may be superior in detecting in vivo activity. I discuss their apparent similarities to promoters, which challenge the established view of enhancers and promoters as distinct entities, and present a unifying model of regulatory elements in transcriptional regulation, in which activity, transcriptional output and regulatory function is context specific.

Keywords: chromatin; eRNA; enhancer; promoter; transcriptional regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Transcription Initiation Site
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Transcription Factors