A conserved insulator that recruits CTCF and cohesin exists between the closely related but divergently regulated interleukin-3 and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor genes.
The human interleukin-3 (IL-3) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating-factor (GM-CSF, or CSF2) gene cluster arose by duplication of an ancestral gene. Although just 10 kb apart and responsive to the same signals, the IL-3 and GM-CSF genes are nevertheless regulated independently by separate, tissue-specific enhancers. To understand the differential regulation of the IL-3 and GM-CSF genes we have investigated a cluster of three ubiquitous DNase I-hypersensitive sites (DHSs) located between the two genes. We found that each site contains a conserved CTCF consensus sequence, binds CTCF, and recruits the cohesin subunit Rad21 in vivo. The positioning of these sites relative to the IL-3 and GM-CSF genes and their respective enhancers is conserved between human and mouse, suggesting a functional role in the organization of the locus. We found that these sites effectively block functional interactions between the GM-CSF enhancer and either the IL-3 or the GM-CSF promoter in reporter gene assays. These data argue that the regulation of the IL-3 and the GM-CSF promoters depends on the positions of their enhancers relative to the conserved CTCF/cohesin-binding sites. We suggest that one important role of these sites is to enable the independent regulation of the IL-3 and GM-CSF genes.