Understanding the transcriptional regulation of microRNAs (miRNAs) is extremely important for determining the specific roles they play in signaling cascades. However, precise identification of transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) orchestrating the expressions of miRNAs remains a challenge. By combining accessible chromatin sequences of 12 cell types released by the ENCODE Project, we found that a significant fraction (∼80%) of such integrated sequences, evolutionary conserved and in regions upstream of human miRNA genes that are independently transcribed, were preserved across cell types. Accordingly, we developed a computational method, Accessible and Conserved TFBSs Locater (ACTLocater), incorporating this chromatin feature and evolutionary conservation to identify the TFBSs associated with human miRNA genes. ACTLocater achieved high positive predictive values, as revealed by the experimental validation of FOXA1 predictions and by the comparison of its predictions of some other transcription factors (TFs) to empirical ChIP-seq data. Most notably, ACTLocater was widely applicable as indicated by the successful prediction of TF→miRNA interactions in cell types whose chromatin accessibility profiles were not incorporated. By applying ACTLocater to TFs with characterized binding specificities, we compiled a novel repository of putative TF→miRNA interactions and displayed it in ACTViewer, providing a promising foundation for future investigations to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms of miRNA transcription in humans.
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