CTCF-mediated chromatin loops enclose inducible gene regulatory domains

BMC Genomics. 2016 Mar 22;17:252. doi: 10.1186/s12864-016-2516-6.


Background: The CCTC-binding factor (CTCF) protein is involved in genome organization, including mediating three-dimensional chromatin interactions. Human patient lymphocytes with mutations in a single copy of the CTCF gene have reduced expression of enhancer-associated genes involved in response to stimuli. We hypothesize that CTCF interactions stabilize enhancer-promoter chromatin interaction domains, facilitating increased expression of genes in response to stimuli. Here we systematically investigate this model using computational analyses.

Results: We use CTCF ChIA-PET data from the ENCODE project to show that CTCF-associated chromatin loops have a tendency to enclose regions of enhancer-regulated stimulus responsive genes, insulating them from neighboring regions of constitutively expressed housekeeping genes. To facilitate cell type-specific CTCF loop identification, we develop an algorithm to predict CTCF loops from ChIP-seq data alone by exploiting the CTCF motif directionality in loop anchors. We apply this algorithm to a hundred ENCODE cell line datasets, confirming the universality of our observations as well as identifying a general distinction between primary and immortal cells in loop-enclosed gene content. Finally, we combine the existing evidence to propose a model for the formation of CTCF loops in which partner sites are brought together by chromatin template reeling through stationary RNA polymerases, consistent with the transcription factory hypothesis.

Conclusions: We provide computational evidence that CTCF-mediated chromatin interactions enclose domains of stimulus responsive enhancer-regulated genes, insulating them from nearby housekeeping genes.

Keywords: CTCF; Chromatin looping; Enhancers; Gene regulation; Inducible genes; Transcription factory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CCCTC-Binding Factor
  • Chromatin / chemistry*
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • K562 Cells
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Repressor Proteins / chemistry*
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics


  • CCCTC-Binding Factor
  • CTCF protein, human
  • Chromatin
  • Repressor Proteins