Coming full circle: On the origin and evolution of the looping model for enhancer-promoter communication

J Biol Chem. 2022 Aug;298(8):102117. doi: 10.1016/j.jbc.2022.102117. Epub 2022 Jun 9.


In mammalian organisms, enhancers can regulate transcription from great genomic distances. How enhancers affect distal gene expression has been a major question in the field of gene regulation. One model to explain how enhancers communicate with their target promoters, the chromatin looping model, posits that enhancers and promoters come in close spatial proximity to mediate communication. Chromatin looping has been broadly accepted as a means for enhancer-promoter communication, driven by accumulating in vitro and in vivo evidence. The genome is now known to be folded into a complex 3D arrangement, created and maintained in part by the interplay of the Cohesin complex and the DNA-binding protein CTCF. In the last few years, however, doubt over the relationship between looping and transcriptional activation has emerged, driven by studies finding that only a modest number of genes are perturbed with acute degradation of looping machinery components. In parallel, newer models describing distal enhancer action have also come to prominence. In this article, we explore the emergence and development of the looping model as a means for enhancer-promoter communication and review the contrasting evidence between historical gene-specific and current global data for the role of chromatin looping in transcriptional regulation. We also discuss evidence for alternative models to chromatin looping and their support in the literature. We suggest that, while there is abundant evidence for chromatin looping as a major mechanism for enhancer function, enhancer-promoter communication is likely mediated by more than one mechanism in an enhancer- and context-dependent manner.

Keywords: 3D genome; CTCF; Cohesin; TAD; chromatin structure; genome structure; promoter; transcription; transcription enhancer.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CCCTC-Binding Factor / genetics
  • CCCTC-Binding Factor / metabolism
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly
  • Chromatin* / genetics
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Mammals
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*


  • CCCTC-Binding Factor
  • Chromatin