High-occupancy target (HOT) regions are segments of the genome with unusually high number of transcription factor binding sites. These regions are observed in multiple species and thought to have biological importance due to high transcription factor occupancy. Furthermore, they coincide with house-keeping gene promoters and consequently associated genes are stably expressed across multiple cell types. Despite these features, HOT regions are solely defined using ChIP-seq experiments and shown to lack canonical motifs for transcription factors that are thought to be bound there. Although, ChIP-seq experiments are the golden standard for finding genome-wide binding sites of a protein, they are not noise free. Here, we show that HOT regions are likely to be ChIP-seq artifacts and they are similar to previously proposed 'hyper-ChIPable' regions. Using ChIP-seq data sets for knocked-out transcription factors, we demonstrate presence of false positive signals on HOT regions. We observe sequence characteristics and genomic features that are discriminatory of HOT regions, such as GC/CpG-rich k-mers, enrichment of RNA-DNA hybrids (R-loops) and DNA tertiary structures (G-quadruplex DNA). The artificial ChIP-seq enrichment on HOT regions could be associated to these discriminatory features. Furthermore, we propose strategies to deal with such artifacts for the future ChIP-seq studies.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.