Sequence signatures extracted from proximal promoters can be used to predict distal enhancers

Leila Taher, Robin P Smith, Mee J Kim, Nadav Ahituv, Ivan Ovcharenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Gene expression is controlled by proximal promoters and distal regulatory elements such as enhancers. While the activity of some promoters can be invariant across tissues, enhancers tend to be highly tissue-specific.

RESULTS: We compiled sets of tissue-specific promoters based on gene expression profiles of 79 human tissues and cell types. Putative transcription factor binding sites within each set of sequences were used to train a support vector machine classifier capable of distinguishing tissue-specific promoters from control sequences. We obtained reliable classifiers for 92% of the tissues, with an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve between 60% (for subthalamic nucleus promoters) and 98% (for heart promoters). We next used these classifiers to identify tissue-specific enhancers, scanning distal non-coding sequences in the loci of the 200 most highly and lowly expressed genes. Thirty percent of reliable classifiers produced consistent enhancer predictions, with significantly higher densities in the loci of the most highly expressed compared to lowly expressed genes. Liver enhancer predictions were assessed in vivo using the hydrodynamic tail vein injection assay. Fifty-eight percent of the predictions yielded significant enhancer activity in the mouse liver, whereas a control set of five sequences was completely negative.

CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that promoters of tissue-specific genes often contain unambiguous tissue-specific signatures that can be learned and used for the de novo prediction of enhancers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R117
JournalGenome Biology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Genomics/methods
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Nucleotide Motifs
  • Organ Specificity/genetics
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Support Vector Machine
  • Transcription Factors


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