A cis-regulatory-directed pipeline for the identification of genes involved in cardiac development and disease

Hieu T. Nim, Louis Dang, Harshini Thiyagarajah, Daniel Bakopoulos, Michael See, Natalie Charitakis, Tennille Sibbritt, Michael P. Eichenlaub, Stuart K. Archer, Nicolas Fossat, Richard E. Burke, Patrick P.L. Tam, Coral G. Warr, Travis K. Johnson, Mirana Ramialison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Congenital heart diseases are the major cause of death in newborns, but the genetic etiology of this developmental disorder is not fully known. The conventional approach to identify the disease-causing genes focuses on screening genes that display heart-specific expression during development. However, this approach would have discounted genes that are expressed widely in other tissues but may play critical roles in heart development. 

Results: We report an efficient pipeline of genome-wide gene discovery based on the identification of a cardiac-specific cis-regulatory element signature that points to candidate genes involved in heart development and congenital heart disease. With this pipeline, we retrieve 76% of the known cardiac developmental genes and predict 35 novel genes that previously had no known connectivity to heart development. Functional validation of these novel cardiac genes by RNAi-mediated knockdown of the conserved orthologs in Drosophila cardiac tissue reveals that disrupting the activity of 71% of these genes leads to adult mortality. Among these genes, RpL14, RpS24, and Rpn8 are associated with heart phenotypes. 

Conclusions: Our pipeline has enabled the discovery of novel genes with roles in heart development. This workflow, which relies on screening for non-coding cis-regulatory signatures, is amenable for identifying developmental and disease genes for an organ without constraining to genes that are expressed exclusively in the organ of interest.

Original languageEnglish
Article number335
Number of pages21
JournalGenome Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2021


  • Computational genomics
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Drosophila
  • Heart development
  • Regulatory elements
  • RNAi
  • Tissue-specific expression

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