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Genomic Views of Transcriptional Enhancers: Essential Determinants of Cellular Identity and Activity-Dependent Responses in the CNS.


Sprinkled throughout the genome are a million regulatory sequences called transcriptional enhancers that activate gene promoters in the right cells, at the right time. Enhancers endow the brain with its incredible diversity of cell types and also translate neural activity into gene induction. Thanks to rapid advances in genomic technologies, it is now possible to identify thousands of enhancers rapidly, test their transcriptional function en masse, and address their neurobiological functions via genome editing. Enhancers also promise to be a great technological opportunity for neuroscience, offering the potential for cell-type-specific genetic labeling and manipulation without the need for transgenesis. The objective of this review and the accompanying 2015 SfN mini-symposium is to highlight the use of new and emerging genomic technologies to probe enhancer function in the nervous system.

Significance statement

Transcriptional enhancers turn on genes in the right cells, at the right time. Enhancers are also the genomic sequences that encode the incredible diversity of cell types in the brain and enable the brain to turn genes on in response to new experiences. New technology enables enhancers to be found and manipulated. The study of enhancers promises to inform our understanding of brain development and function. The application of enhancer technology holds promise in accelerating basic neuroscience research and enabling gene therapies to be targeted to specific cell types in the brain.

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