Comparative analyses of super-enhancers reveal conserved elements in vertebrate genomes

Genome Res. 2017 Feb;27(2):259-268. doi: 10.1101/gr.203679.115. Epub 2016 Dec 13.


Super-enhancers (SEs) are key transcriptional drivers of cellular, developmental, and disease states in mammals, yet the conservational and regulatory features of these enhancer elements in nonmammalian vertebrates are unknown. To define SEs in zebrafish and enable sequence and functional comparisons to mouse and human SEs, we used genome-wide histone H3 lysine 27 acetylation (H3K27ac) occupancy as a primary SE delineator. Our study determined the set of SEs in pluripotent state cells and adult zebrafish tissues and revealed both similarities and differences between zebrafish and mammalian SEs. Although the total number of SEs was proportional to the genome size, the genomic distribution of zebrafish SEs differed from that of the mammalian SEs. Despite the evolutionary distance separating zebrafish and mammals and the low overall SE sequence conservation, ∼42% of zebrafish SEs were located in close proximity to orthologs that also were associated with SEs in mouse and human. Compared to their nonassociated counterparts, higher sequence conservation was revealed for those SEs that have maintained orthologous gene associations. Functional dissection of two of these SEs identified conserved sequence elements and tissue-specific expression patterns, while chromatin accessibility analyses predicted transcription factors governing the function of pluripotent state zebrafish SEs. Our zebrafish annotations and comparative studies show the extent of SE usage and their conservation across vertebrates, permitting future gene regulatory studies in several tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Animals
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Conserved Sequence / genetics*
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genomics
  • Histones / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Zebrafish / genetics*


  • Chromatin
  • Histones
  • Transcription Factors