Evolution of mouse circadian enhancers from transposable elements

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Transposable elements are increasingly recognized as a source of cis-regulatory variation. Previous studies have revealed that transposons are often bound by transcription factors and some have been co-opted into functional enhancers regulating host gene expression. However, the process by which transposons mature into complex regulatory elements, like enhancers, remains poorly understood. To investigate this process, we examined the contribution of transposons to the cis-regulatory network controlling circadian gene expression in the mouse liver, a well-characterized network serving an important physiological function.


ChIP-seq analyses reveal that transposons and other repeats contribute ~ 14% of the binding sites for core circadian regulators (CRs) including BMAL1, CLOCK, PER1/2, and CRY1/2, in the mouse liver. RSINE1, an abundant murine-specific SINE, is the only transposon family enriched for CR binding sites across all datasets. Sequence analyses and reporter assays reveal that the circadian regulatory activity of RSINE1 stems from the presence of imperfect CR binding motifs in the ancestral RSINE1 sequence. These motifs matured into canonical motifs through point mutations after transposition. Furthermore, maturation occurred preferentially within elements inserted in the proximity of ancestral CR binding sites. RSINE1 also acquired motifs that recruit nuclear receptors known to cooperate with CRs to regulate circadian gene expression specifically in the liver.


Our results suggest that the birth of enhancers from transposons is predicated both by the sequence of the transposon and by the cis-regulatory landscape surrounding their genomic integration site.

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