Mammalian gene clusters contain a range of CTCF binding sites. In addition to their importance in organizing a TAD border, which isolates the most posterior genes from the rest of the cluster, the positions and orientations of these sites suggest that CTCF may be instrumental in the selection of various subsets of contiguous genes, which are targets of distinct remote enhancers located in the flanking regulatory landscapes. We examined this possibility by producing an allelic series of cumulative in mutations in these sites, up to the abrogation of CTCF binding in the five sites located on one side of the TAD border. In the most impactful alleles, the global chromatin architecture of the locus was modified, yet not drastically, illustrating that CTCF sites located on one side of a strong TAD border are sufficient to organize at least part of this insulation. Spatial colinearity in the expression of these genes along the major body axis was nevertheless maintained, despite abnormal expression boundaries. In contrast, strong effects were scored in the selection of target genes responding to particular enhancers, leading to the misregulation of genes in specific structures. Altogether, while most enhancer-promoter interactions can occur in the absence of this series of CTCF sites, the binding of CTCF in the cluster is required to properly transform a rather unprecise process into a highly discriminative mechanism of interactions, which is translated into various patterns of transcription accompanied by the distinctive chromatin topology found at this locus. Our allelic series also allowed us to reveal the distinct functional contributions for CTCF sites within this cluster, some acting as insulator elements, others being necessary to anchor or stabilize enhancer-promoter interactions, and some doing both, whereas they all together contribute to the formation of a TAD border. This variety of tasks may explain the amazing evolutionary conservation in the distribution of these sites among paralogous clusters or between various vertebrates.
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