Abstract

Enhancers are noncoding DNA elements that are present upstream or downstream of a gene to control its spatial and temporal expression. Specific histone modifications, such as monomethylation on histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me1) and H3K27ac, have been widely used to assign enhancer regions in mammalian genomes. In recent years, emerging evidence suggests that active enhancers are bidirectionally transcribed to produce enhancer RNAs (eRNAs). This finding not only adds a new reliable feature to define enhancers but also raises a fundamental question of how eRNAs function to activate transcription. Although some believe that eRNAs are merely transcriptional byproducts, many studies have demonstrated that eRNAs execute crucial tasks in regulating chromatin conformation and transcription activation. In this review, we summarize the current understanding of eRNAs from their biogenesis, functions, and regulation to their pathological significance. Additionally, we discuss the challenges and possible mechanisms of eRNAs in regulated transcription.

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