Abstract: Background Super-enhancers are clusters of enhancer elements that play critical roles in the maintenance of cell identity. Current investigations on super-enhancers are centered on the established ones in static cell types. How super-enhancers are established during cell differentiation remains obscure. Results Here, by developing an unbiased approach to systematically analyze the evolving landscape of super-enhancers during cell differentiation in multiple lineages, we discover a general trend where super-enhancers emerge through three distinct temporal patterns: conserved, temporally hierarchical, and de novo. The three types of super-enhancers differ further in association patterns in target gene expression, functional enrichment, and 3D chromatin organization, suggesting they may represent distinct structural and functional subtypes. Furthermore, we dissect the enhancer repertoire within temporally hierarchical super-enhancers, and find enhancers that emerge at early and late stages are enriched with distinct transcription factors, suggesting that the temporal order of establishment of elements within super-enhancers may be directed by underlying DNA sequence. CRISPR-mediated deletion of individual enhancers in differentiated cells shows that both the early- and late-emerged enhancers are indispensable for target gene expression, while in undifferentiated cells early enhancers are involved in the regulation of target genes. Conclusions In summary, our analysis highlights the heterogeneity of the super-enhancer population and provides new insights to enhancer functions within super-enhancers.
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