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p38 MAPK

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Alysia Mortimer
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As organisms are constantly exposed to the damaging effects of oxidative stress through both environmental exposure as well as internal metabolic processes, they have evolved a variety of mechanisms to cope with this stress. One such mechanism is the highly conserved p38 MAPK (p38K) pathway, which is known to be to post-translationally activated in response to oxidative stress resulting in the activation of downstream antioxidant targets. However, little is known about the role of p38K transcriptional regulation in response to oxidative stress. Therefore, we analyzed the p38K gene family across the genus Drosophila to identify conserved regulatory elements. We find that oxidative stress exposure results in increased p38K protein levels in multiple Drosophila species and is associated with increased oxidative stress resistance. We also find that the p38Kb genomic locus includes conserved binding sites for the AP-1 and lola-PT transcription factors. Accordingly, over-expression of these transcription factors in D. melanogaster is sufficient to induce transcription of p38Kb and enhances resistance to oxidative stress. We further find that the presence of a lola-PT binding site in the p38Kb locus of a given species is predictive of the species’ survival in response to oxidative stress. Through our comparative genomics approach, we have identified biologically relevant transcription factor binding sites that regulate the expression of p38Kb and are associated with resistance to oxidative stress. These findings reveal a novel mode of regulation for p38K genes and suggests that transcription may play as important a role in p38K mediated stress responses as post-translational modifications. Significance Statement Organisms encounter a variety of environmental stresses such as oxidative stress throughout their lifetime. Therefore, organisms have evolved a number of mechanisms to combat these stresses. In order to understand how these mechanisms evolved, we have compared the genomes of a diverse set of species across the genus Drosophila to examine the p38 MAPK stress response gene family. Our analysis was able to successfully predict transcription factors that not only regulate our target gene, p38Kb, but do so under different conditions to ensure an appropriate stress response. Therefore, we find that in addition to post-translational regulation, transcriptional regulation of signaling pathways may also play an important role in how organisms are able to adapt to stressful environments or respond to stress conditions as they arise. Furthermore, our comparative genomics approach may be utilized to identify transcriptional regulators of other highly conserved signaling pathways.