Olfactory neuronal function depends on the expression and proper regulation of odorant receptor (OR) genes. Previous studies have identified 54 putative intergenic enhancers within or flanking 40 mouse OR clusters. At least 2 of these putative enhancers have been shown to regulate the expression of a small subset of proximal OR genes. In recognition of the large size of the mouse OR gene family (~1400 OR genes distributed across multiple chromosomal loci), it is likely that there remain many additional not-as-yet discovered OR enhancers. We utilized 23 of the previously identified enhancers as a training set (TS) and designed an algorithm that combines a broad range of epigenetic criteria (histone-3-lysine-4 monomethylation, histone-3-lysine-79 trimethylation, histone-3-lysine-27 acetylation, and DNase hypersensitivity) and genetic criteria (cross-species sequence conservation and transcription-factor binding site enrichment) to more broadly search OR gene clusters for additional candidates. We identified 181 new candidate enhancers located at 58 (of 68) mouse OR loci, including 25 new candidates identified by stringent search criteria whose signal strengths are not significantly different from the 23 previously characterized OR enhancers used as the TS. Additionally, we compared OR enhancer versus generic enhancer features in order to evaluate likelihoods that new enhancer candidates specifically function in OR regulation. We found that features distinguishing OR-specific function are significantly more evident for enhancer candidates located within OR clusters as compared with those in flanking regions.

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