Precise control of gene expression is crucial to ensure proper development and biological functioning of an organism. Enhancers are non-coding DNA elements which play an essential role in regulating gene expression. They contain specific sequence motifs serving as binding sites for transcription factors which interact with the basal transcription machinery at their target genes. Heart development is regulated by intricate gene regulatory network ensuring precise spatiotemporal gene expression program. Mutations affecting enhancers have been shown to result in devastating forms of congenital heart defect. Therefore, identifying enhancers implicated in heart biology and understanding their mechanism is key to improve diagnosis and therapeutic options. Despite their crucial role, enhancers are poorly studied, mainly due to a lack of reliable way to identify them and determine their function. Nevertheless, recent technological advances have allowed rapid progress in enhancer discovery. Model organisms such as the zebrafish have contributed significant insights into the genetics of heart development through enabling functional analyses of genes and their regulatory elements in vivo. Here, we summarize the current state of knowledge on heart enhancers gained through studies in model organisms, discuss various approaches to discover and study their function, and finally suggest methods that could further advance research in this field.
Keywords: enhancers; heart development; heart regeneration; model organism; transcription factors; zebrafish.