Biochemistry, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

December 2002


Published in PNAS, December 10, 2002, vol. 99, suppl. 4. Copyright 2002. Used by permission.


Insulators are DNA sequence elements that can serve in some cases as barriers to protect a gene against the encroachment of adjacent inactive condensed chromatin. Some insulators also can act as blocking elements to protect against the activating influence of distal enhancers associated with other genes. Although most of the insulators identified so far derive from Drosophila, they also are found in vertebrates. An insulator at the 5′ end of the chicken β -globin locus marks a boundary between an open chromatin domain and a region of constitutively condensed chromatin. Detailed analysis of this element shows that it possesses both enhancer blocking activity and the ability to screen reporter genes against position effects. Enhancer blocking is associated with binding of the protein CTCF; sites that bind CTCF are found at other critical points in the genome. Protection against position effects involves other properties that appear to be associated with control of histone acetylation and methylation. Insulators thus are complex elements that can help to preserve the independent function of genes embedded in a genome in which they are surrounded by regulatory signals they must ignore.