Rationale: Significant progress has revealed transcriptional inputs that underlie regulation of artery and vein endothelial cell fates. However, little is known concerning genome-wide regulation of this process. Therefore, such studies are warranted to address this gap.
Objective: To identify and characterize artery- and vein-specific endothelial enhancers in the human genome, thereby gaining insights into mechanisms by which blood vessel identity is regulated.
Methods and results: Using chromatin immunoprecipitation and deep sequencing for markers of active chromatin in human arterial and venous endothelial cells, we identified several thousand artery- and vein-specific regulatory elements. Computational analysis revealed that NR2F2 (nuclear receptor subfamily 2, group F, member 2) sites were overrepresented in vein-specific enhancers, suggesting a direct role in promoting vein identity. Subsequent integration of chromatin immunoprecipitation and deep sequencing data sets with RNA sequencing revealed that NR2F2 regulated 3 distinct aspects related to arteriovenous identity. First, consistent with previous genetic observations, NR2F2 directly activated enhancer elements flanking cell cycle genes to drive their expression. Second, NR2F2 was essential to directly activate vein-specific enhancers and their associated genes. Our genomic approach further revealed that NR2F2 acts with ERG (ETS-related gene) at many of these sites to drive vein-specific gene expression. Finally, NR2F2 directly repressed only a small number of artery enhancers in venous cells to prevent their activation, including a distal element upstream of the artery-specific transcription factor, HEY2 (hes related family bHLH transcription factor with YRPW motif 2). In arterial endothelial cells, this enhancer was normally bound by ERG, which was also required for arterial HEY2 expression. By contrast, in venous endothelial cells, NR2F2 was bound to this site, together with ERG, and prevented its activation.
Conclusions: By leveraging a genome-wide approach, we revealed mechanistic insights into how NR2F2 functions in multiple roles to maintain venous identity. Importantly, characterization of its role at a crucial artery enhancer upstream of HEY2 established a novel mechanism by which artery-specific expression can be achieved.
Keywords: arteries; epigenomics; gene expression; genomics; veins.