SOX9 is a transcriptional activator required for chondrogenesis, and SOX5 and SOX6 are closely related DNA-binding proteins that critically enhance its function. We use here genome-wide approaches to gain novel insights into the full spectrum of the target genes and modes of action of this chondrogenic trio. Using the RCS cell line as a faithful model for proliferating/early prehypertrophic growth plate chondrocytes, we uncover that SOX6 and SOX9 bind thousands of genomic sites, frequently and most efficiently near each other. SOX9 recognizes pairs of inverted SOX motifs, whereas SOX6 favors pairs of tandem SOX motifs. The SOX proteins primarily target enhancers. While binding to a small fraction of typical enhancers, they bind multiple sites on almost all super-enhancers (SEs) present in RCS cells. These SEs are predominantly linked to cartilage-specific genes. The SOX proteins effectively work together to activate these SEs and are required for in vivo expression of their associated genes. These genes encode key regulatory factors, including the SOX trio proteins, and all essential cartilage extracellular matrix components. Chst11, Fgfr3, Runx2 and Runx3 are among many other newly identified SOX trio targets. SOX9 and SOX5/SOX6 thus cooperate genome-wide, primarily through SEs, to implement the growth plate chondrocyte differentiation program.
© The Author(s) 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.