The effects of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) on the activity of a cis-regulatory element (CRE) depend on the local sequence context. In rod photoreceptors, binding sites for the transcription factor (TF) Cone-rod homeobox (CRX) occur in both enhancers and silencers, but the sequence context that determines whether CRX binding sites contribute to activation or repression of transcription is not understood. To investigate the context-dependent activity of CRX sites, we fit neural network-based models to the activities of synthetic CREs composed of photoreceptor TFBSs. The models revealed that CRX binding sites consistently make positive, independent contributions to CRE activity, while negative homotypic interactions between sites cause CREs composed of multiple CRX sites to function as silencers. The effects of negative homotypic interactions can be overcome by the presence of other TFBSs that either interact cooperatively with CRX sites or make independent positive contributions to activity. The context-dependent activity of CRX sites is thus determined by the balance between positive heterotypic interactions, independent contributions of TFBSs, and negative homotypic interactions. Our findings explain observed patterns of activity among genomic CRX-bound enhancers and silencers, and suggest that enhancers may require diverse TFBSs to overcome negative homotypic interactions between TFBSs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1011802
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


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