Gene expression in metazoans is regulated by RNA polymerase II (Pol II) promoter-proximal pausing and its release. Previously, we showed that Pol II-associated factor 1 (PAF1) modulates the release of paused Pol II into productive elongation. Here, we found that PAF1 occupies transcriptional enhancers and restrains hyperactivation of a subset of these enhancers. Enhancer activation as the result of PAF1 loss releases Pol II from paused promoters of nearby PAF1 target genes. Knockout of PAF1-regulated enhancers attenuates the release of paused Pol II on PAF1 target genes without major interference in the establishment of pausing at their cognate promoters. Thus, a subset of enhancers can primarily modulate gene expression by controlling the release of paused Pol II in a PAF1-dependent manner.
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