Hou Tim Y and Kraus W Lee
To better understand the functions of non-coding enhancer RNAs (eRNAs), we annotated the estrogen-regulated eRNA transcriptome in estrogen receptor α (ERα)-positive breast cancer cells using PRO-cap and RNA sequencing. We then cloned a subset of the eRNAs identified, fused them to single guide RNAs, and targeted them to their ERα enhancers of origin using CRISPR/dCas9. Some of the eRNAs tested modulated the expression of cognate, but not heterologous, target genes after estrogen treatment by increasing ERα recruitment and stimulating p300-catalyzed H3K27 acetylation at the enhancer. We identified a ∼40 nucleotide functional eRNA regulatory motif (FERM) present in many eRNAs that was necessary and sufficient to modulate gene expression, but not the specificity of activation, after estrogen treatment. The FERM interacted with BCAS2, an RNA-binding protein amplified in breast cancers. The ectopic expression of a targeted eRNA controlling the expression of an oncogene resulted in increased cell proliferation, demonstrating the regulatory potential of eRNAs in breast cancer.