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This article is the author's final published version in PLoS Genetics, Volume 17, Issue 4, 26 April 2021, Article number e1009536.

The published version is available at

Copyright © 2021 Fujioka et al.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Several distinct activities and functions have been described for chromatin insulators, which separate genes along chromosomes into functional units. Here, we describe a novel mechanism of functional separation whereby an insulator prevents gene repression. When the homie insulator is deleted from the end of a Drosophila even skipped (eve) locus, a flanking P-element promoter is activated in a partial eve pattern, causing expression driven by enhancers in the 3' region to be repressed. The mechanism involves transcriptional read-through from the flanking promoter. This conclusion is based on the following. Read-through driven by a heterologous enhancer is sufficient to repress, even when homie is in place. Furthermore, when the flanking promoter is turned around, repression is minimal. Transcriptional read-through that does not produce anti-sense RNA can still repress expression, ruling out RNAi as the mechanism in this case. Thus, transcriptional interference, caused by enhancer capture and read-through when the insulator is removed, represses eve promoter-driven expression. We also show that enhancer-promoter specificity and processivity of transcription can have decisive effects on the consequences of insulator removal. First, a core heat shock 70 promoter that is not activated well by eve enhancers did not cause read-through sufficient to repress the eve promoter. Second, these transcripts are less processive than those initiated at the P-promoter, measured by how far they extend through the eve locus, and so are less disruptive. These results highlight the importance of considering transcriptional read-through when assessing the effects of insulators on gene expression.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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