Functional conservation of sequence determinants at rapidly evolving regulatory regions across mammals

by Iksoo Huh, Isabel Mendizabal, Taesung Park, Soojin V. Yi

Recent advances in epigenomics have made it possible to map genome-wide regulatory regions using empirical methods. Subsequent comparative epigenomic studies have revealed that regulatory regions diverge rapidly between genome of different species, and that the divergence is more pronounced in enhancers than in promoters. To understand genomic changes underlying these patterns, we investigated if we can identify specific sequence fragments that are over-enriched in regulatory regions, thus potentially contributing to regulatory functions of such regions. Here we report numerous sequence fragments that are statistically over-enriched in enhancers and promoters of different mammals (which we refer to as ‘sequence determinants’). Interestingly, the degree of statistical enrichment, which presumably is associated with the degree of regulatory impacts of the specific sequence determinant, was significantly higher for promoter sequence determinants than enhancer sequence determinants. We further used a machine learning method to construct prediction models using sequence determinants. Remarkably, prediction models constructed from one species could be used to predict regulatory regions of other species with high accuracy. This observation indicates that even though the precise locations of regulatory regions diverge rapidly during evolution, the functional potential of sequence determinants underlying regulatory sequences may be conserved between species.

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