Nucleic Acids Research

Active promoters give rise to false positive 'Phantom Peaks' in ChIP-seq experiments

Jain, D., Baldi, S., Zabel, A., Straub, T., Becker, P. B..

Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is widely used to identify chromosomal binding sites. Chromatin proteins are cross-linked to their target sequences in living cells. The purified chromatin is sheared and the relevant protein is enriched by immunoprecipitation with specific antibodies. The co-purifying genomic DNA is then determined by massive parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq).

We applied ChIP-seq to map the chromosomal binding sites for two ISWI-containing nucleosome remodeling factors, ACF and RSF, in Drosophila embryos. Employing several polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies directed against their signature subunits, ACF1 and RSF-1, robust profiles were obtained indicating that both remodelers co-occupied a large set of active promoters.

Further validation included controls using chromatin of mutant embryos that do not express ACF1 or RSF-1. Surprisingly, the ChIP-seq profiles were unchanged, suggesting that they were not due to specific immunoprecipitation. Conservative analysis lists about 3000 chromosomal loci, mostly active promoters that are prone to non-specific enrichment in ChIP and appear as ‘Phantom Peaks’. These peaks are not obtained with pre-immune serum and are not prominent in input chromatin.

Mining the modENCODE ChIP-seq profiles identifies potential Phantom Peaks in many profiles of epigenetic regulators. These profiles and other ChIP-seq data featuring prominent Phantom Peaks must be validated with chromatin from cells in which the protein of interest has been depleted.