Androgen receptor (AR) is critical to the initiation, growth, and progression of prostate cancer. Once activated, the AR binds to cis-regulatory enhancer elements on DNA that drive gene expression. Yet, there are 10-100× more binding sites than differentially expressed genes. It is unclear how or if these excess binding sites impact gene transcription.
Using a functional map of AR enhancer activity, we demonstrated that AR-regulated enhancers act as a regulatory hub that increases interactions with other AR binding sites and gene promoters.
To characterize the regulatory logic of AR-mediated transcription, we generated a locus-specific map of enhancer activity by functionally testing all common clinical AR binding sites with Self-Transcribing Active Regulatory Regions sequencing (STARRseq). Only 7% of AR binding sites displayed androgen-dependent enhancer activity. Instead, the vast majority of AR binding sites were either inactive or constitutively active enhancers. These annotations strongly correlated with enhancer-associated features of both in vitro cell lines and clinical prostate cancer samples. Evaluating the effect of each enhancer class on transcription, we found that AR-regulated enhancers frequently interact with promoters and form central chromosomal loops that are required for transcription. Somatic mutations of these critical AR-regulated enhancers often impact enhancer activity.