Non-coding mutations at the far end of a large gene desert surrounding the SOX9 gene result in a human craniofacial disorder called Pierre Robin sequence (PRS). Leveraging a human stem cell differentiation model, we identify two clusters of enhancers within the PRS-associated region that regulate SOX9 expression during a restricted window of facial progenitor development at distances up to 1.45 Mb. Enhancers within the 1.45 Mb cluster exhibit highly synergistic activity that is dependent on the Coordinator motif. Using mouse models, we demonstrate that PRS phenotypic specificity arises from the convergence of two mechanisms: confinement of Sox9 dosage perturbation to developing facial structures through context-specific enhancer activity and heightened sensitivity of the lower jaw to Sox9 expression reduction. Overall, we characterize the longest-range human enhancers involved in congenital malformations, directly demonstrate that PRS is an enhanceropathy, and illustrate how small changes in gene expression can lead to morphological variation.
Cell stem cell
765 - 783.e14
Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA; Department of Developmental Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA; Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.