Developmental genes such as Xist, which initiates X chromosome inactivation, are controlled by complex cis-regulatory landscapes, which decode multiple signals to establish specific spatiotemporal expression patterns. Xist integrates information on X chromosome dosage and developmental stage to trigger X inactivation in the epiblast specifically in female embryos. Through a pooled CRISPR screen in differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells, we identify functional enhancer elements of Xist at the onset of random X inactivation. Chromatin profiling reveals that X-dosage controls the promoter-proximal region, while differentiation cues activate several distal enhancers. The strongest distal element lies in an enhancer cluster associated with a previously unannotated Xist-enhancing regulatory transcript, which we named Xert. Developmental cues and X-dosage are thus decoded by distinct regulatory regions, which cooperate to ensure female-specific Xist upregulation at the correct developmental time. With this study, we start to disentangle how multiple, functionally distinct regulatory elements interact to generate complex expression patterns in mammals.
Keywords: CRISPR screens; CRISPRi; X-chromosome inactivation; Xert; Xist; chromatin modifications; enhancers; epigenetics; lncRNA.
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