Quantifying Eukaryotic Gene Regulation in Hormone Response and Disease.
Quantifying the function of mammalian enhancers at the genome or population scale has been longstanding challenge in the field of gene regulation. Studies of individual enhancers have provided anecdotal evidence on which many foundational assumptions in the field are based. Genome-scale studies have revealed that the number of sites bound by a given transcription factor far outnumber the genes that the factor regulates. In this dissertation we describe a new method, chromatin immune-enriched reporter assays (ChIP-reporters), and use that approach to comprehensively test the enhancer activity of genomic loci bound by the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). Integrative genomics analyses of our ChIP-reporter data revealed an unexpected mechanism of glucocorticoid (GC)-induced gene regulation. In that mechanism, only the minority of GR bound sites acts as GC-inducible enhancers. Many non-GC-inducible GR binding sites interact with GC-induced sites via chromatin looping. These interactions can increase the activity of GC-induced enhancers. Finally, we describe a method that enables the detection and characterization of the functional effects of non-coding genetic variation on enhancer activity at the population scale. Taken together, these studies yield both mechanistic and genetic evidence that provides context that informs the understanding of the effects of multiple enhancer variants on gene expression.
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