The interplay of transcription factors and cis-regulatory elements (CREs) orchestrates the dynamic and diverse genetic programs that assemble the human central nervous system (CNS) during development and maintain its function throughout life. Genetic variation within CREs plays a central role in phenotypic variation in complex traits including the risk of developing disease. We took advantage of the retina, a well-characterized region of the CNS known to be affected by pathogenic variants in CREs, to establish a roadmap for characterizing regulatory variation in the human CNS. This comprehensive analysis of tissue-specific regulatory elements, transcription factor binding, and gene expression programs in three regions of the human visual system (retina, macula, and retinal pigment epithelium/choroid) reveals features of regulatory element evolution that shape tissue-specific gene expression programs and defines regulatory elements with the potential to contribute to Mendelian and complex disorders of human vision.
Keywords: cis-regulatory element; enhancer; human; noncoding; retina.