A class of cis-regulatory elements, called enhancers, play a central role in orchestrating spatiotemporally precise gene-expression programs during development. Consequently, divergence in enhancer sequence and activity is thought to be an important mediator of inter- and intra-species phenotypic variation. Here, we give an overview of emerging principles of enhancer function, current models of enhancer architecture, genomic substrates from which enhancers emerge during evolution, and the influence of three-dimensional genome organization on long-range gene regulation. We discuss intricate relationships between distinct elements within complex regulatory landscapes and consider their potential impact on specificity and robustness of transcriptional regulation.
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