Disruption of long-range gene regulation in human genetic disease: a kaleidoscope of general principles, diverse mechanisms and unique phenotypic consequences
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- Bhatia, S. & Kleinjan, D.A. Hum Genet (2014) 133: 815. doi:10.1007/s00439-014-1424-6
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The precise control of gene expression programs is crucial for the establishment of the diverse gene activity patterns required for the correct development, patterning and differentiation of the myriad of cell types within an organism. The crucial importance of non-coding regions of the genome in the control of gene regulation is well established and depends on a diverse group of sequence fragments called cis-regulatory elements that reside in these regions. Advances in novel genome-wide techniques have greatly increased the ability to identify potential regulatory elements. In contrast, their functional characterisation and the determination of their diverse modes of action remain a major bottleneck. Greater knowledge of gene expression control is of major importance for human health as disruption of gene regulation has become recognised as a significant cause of human disease. Appreciation of the role of cis-regulatory polymorphism in natural variation and susceptibility to common disease is also growing. While novel techniques such as GWAS and NGS provide the ability to collect large genomic datasets, the challenge for the twenty-first century will be to extract the relevant sequences and how to investigate the functional consequences of disease-associated changes. Here, we review how studies of transcriptional control at selected paradigm disease gene loci have revealed general principles of cis-regulatory logic and regulatory genome organisation, yet also demonstrate how the variety of mechanisms can combine to result in unique phenotypic outcomes. Integration of these principles with the emerging wealth of genome-wide data will provide enhanced insight into the workings of our regulatory genome.