A tissue-specific self-interacting chromatin domain forms independently of enhancer-promoter interactions
Brown J., Roberts N., Graham B., Waithe D., Lagerholm C., Telenius J., De Ornellas S., Oudelaar M., Szczerbal I., Babbs C., Kassouf M., Hughes J., Higgs D., Buckle V.
A variety of self-interacting domains, defined at different levels of resolution, have been described in mammalian genomes. These include Chromatin Compartments (A and B), Topologically Associated Domains (TADs), contact domains, sub-TADs, insulated neighbourhoods and frequently interacting regions (FIREs). Whereas many studies have found the organisation of self-interacting domains to be conserved across cell types, some do form in a lineage-specific manner. However, it is not clear to what degree such tissue-specific structures result from processes related to gene activity such as enhancer-promoter interactions or whether they form earlier during lineage commitment and are therefore likely to be prerequisite for promoting gene expression. To examine these models of genome organisation in detail, we used a combination of high-resolution chromosome conformation capture, a newly-developed form of quantitative fluorescence in-situ hybridisation and super-resolution imaging to study a 70 kb self-interacting domain containing the mouse α-globin locus. To understand how this self-interacting domain is established, we studied the region when the genes are inactive and during erythroid differentiation when the genes are progressively switched on. In contrast to many current models of long-range gene regulation, we show that an erythroid-specific, decompacted self-interacting domain, delimited by convergent CTCF/cohesin binding sites, forms prior to the onset of robust gene expression. Using previously established mouse models we show that formation of the self-interacting domain does not rely on interactions between the α-globin genes and their enhancers. As there are also no tissue-specific changes in CTCF binding, then formation of the domain may simply depend on the presence of activated lineage-specific cis-elements driving a transcription-independent mechanism for opening chromatin throughout the 70 kb region to create a permissive environment for gene expression. These findings are consistent with a model of loop-extrusion in which all segments of chromatin, within a region delimited by CTCF boundary elements, can contact each other. Our findings suggest that activation of tissue-specific element(s) within such a self-interacting region is sufficient to influence all chromatin within the domain.