Enhancers serve as critical regulatory elements in higher eukaryotic cells. The characterization of enhancer function has evolved primarily from genome-wide methodologies, including chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP-seq), DNase-I hypersensitivity (DNase-seq), digital genomic footprinting (DGF), and the chromosome conformation capture techniques (3C, 4C, and Hi-C). These population-based assays average signals across millions of cells and lead to enhancer models characterized by static and sequential binding. More recently, fluorescent microscopy techniques, including fluorescence recovery after photobleaching, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, and single molecule tracking (SMT), reveal a highly dynamic binding behavior for these factors in live cells. Furthermore, a refined analysis of genomic footprinting suggests that many transcription factors leave minimal or no footprints in chromatin, even when present and active in a given cell type. In this study, we review the implications of these new approaches for an accurate understanding of enhancer function in real time. In vivo SMT, in particular, has recently evolved as a promising methodology to probe enhancer function in live cells. Integration of findings from the many approaches now employed in the study of enhancer function suggest a highly dynamic view for the action of enhancer activating factors, viewed on a time scale of milliseconds to seconds, rather than minutes to hours. WIREs Syst Biol Med 2018, 10:e1390. doi: 10.1002/wsbm.1390 This article is categorized under: Analytical and Computational Methods > Computational Methods Laboratory Methods and Technologies > Genetic/Genomic Methods Laboratory Methods and Technologies > Imaging.
Published 2017. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.