Adaptive changes in the transcription factor HoxA-11 are essential for the evolution of pregnancy in mammals.

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 10/2008; 105(39):14928-33. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0802355105
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Evolutionary change in gene regulation can result from changes in cis-regulatory elements, leading to differences in the temporal and spatial expression of genes or in the coding region of transcription factors leading to novel functions or both. Although there is a growing body of evidence supporting the importance of cis-regulatory evolution, examples of protein-mediated evolution of novel developmental pathways have not been demonstrated. Here, we investigate the evolution of prolactin (PRL) expression in endometrial cells, which is essential for placentation/pregnancy in eutherian mammals and is a direct regulatory target of the transcription factor HoxA-11. Here, we show that (i) endometrial PRL expression is a derived feature of placental mammals, (ii) the PRL regulatory gene HoxA-11 experienced a period of strong positive selection in the stem-lineage of eutherian mammals, and (iii) only HoxA-11 proteins from placental mammals, including the reconstructed ancestral eutherian gene, are able to up-regulate PRL from the promoter used in endometrial cells. In contrast, HoxA-11 from the reconstructed therian ancestor, opossum, platypus, and chicken are unable to up-regulate PRL expression. These results demonstrate that the evolution of novel gene expression domains is not only mediated by the evolution of cis-regulatory elements but can also require evolutionary changes of transcription factor proteins themselves.

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