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Human gene regulatory evolution is driven by the divergence of regulatory element function in both cis and trans


Hansen TJTyler J , Fong SLSarah L , Day JKJessica K , Capra JAJohn A , Hodges EEmily . Cell genomics. ; 4(4). 100536


Gene regulatory divergence between species can result from cis-acting local changes to regulatory element DNA sequences or global trans-acting changes to the regulatory environment. Understanding how these mechanisms drive regulatory evolution has been limited by challenges in identifying trans-acting changes. We present a comprehensive approach to directly identify cis- and trans-divergent regulatory elements between human and rhesus macaque lymphoblastoid cells using assay for transposase-accessible chromatin coupled to self-transcribing active regulatory region (ATAC-STARR) sequencing. In addition to thousands of cis changes, we discover an unexpected number (∼10,000) of trans changes and show that cis and trans elements exhibit distinct patterns of sequence divergence and function. We further identify differentially expressed transcription factors that underlie ∼37% of trans differences and trace how cis changes can produce cascades of trans changes. Overall, we find that most divergent elements (67%) experienced changes in both cis and trans, revealing a substantial role for trans divergence-alone and together with cis changes-in regulatory differences between species.