Enhancers function with a basal promoter to control the transcription of target genes. Enhancer regulatory activity is often studied using reporter-based transgene assays. However, unmatched results have been reported when selected enhancers are silenced in situ. In this study, using genomic deletion analysis in mice, we investigated the roles of two previously identified enhancers and the promoter of the Rho gene that codes for the visual pigment rhodopsin. The Rho gene is robustly expressed by rod photoreceptors of the retina, and essential for the subcellular structure and visual function of rod photoreceptors. Mutations in RHO cause severe vision loss in humans. We found that each Rho regulatory region can independently mediate local epigenomic changes, but only the promoter is absolutely required for establishing active Rho chromatin configuration and transcription and maintaining the cell integrity and function of rod photoreceptors. To our surprise, two Rho enhancers that enable strong promoter activation in reporter assays are largely dispensable for Rho expression in vivo. Only small and age-dependent impact is detectable when both enhancers are deleted. Our results demonstrate context-dependent roles of enhancers and highlight the importance of studying functions of cis-regulatory regions in the native genomic context.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12899
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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