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Regulatory evolution," that is, changes in a gene's expression pattern through changes at its regulatory sequence, rather than changes at the coding sequence of the gene or changes of the upstream transcription factors, has been increasingly recognized as a pervasive evolution mechanism. Many somatic sexually dimorphic features of Drosophila melanogaster are the results of gene expression regulated by the doublesex (dsx) gene, which encodes sex-specific transcription factors (DSX(F) in females and DSX(M) in males). Rapid changes in such sexually dimorphic features are likely a result of changes at the regulatory sequence of the target genes. We focused on the Flavin-containing monooxygenase-2 (Fmo-2) gene, a likely direct dsx target, to elucidate how sexually dimorphic expression and its evolution are brought about. We found that dsx is deployed to regulate the Fmo-2 transcription both in the midgut and in fat body cells of the spermatheca (a female-specific tissue), through a canonical DSX-binding site in the Fmo-2 regulatory sequence. In the melanogaster group, Fmo-2 transcription in the midgut has evolved rapidly, in contrast to the conserved spermathecal transcription. We identified two cis-regulatory modules (CRM-p and CRM-d) that direct sexually monomorphic or dimorphic Fmo-2 transcription, respectively, in the midguts of these species. Changes of Fmo-2 transcription in the midgut from sexually dimorphic to sexually monomorphic in some species are caused by the loss of CRM-d function, but not the loss of the canonical DSX-binding site. Thus, conferring transcriptional regulation on a CRM level allows the regulation to evolve rapidly in one tissue while evading evolutionary constraints posed by other tissues.


Shengzhan D Luo, Bruce S Baker. Constraints on the evolution of a doublesex target gene arising from doublesex's pleiotropic deployment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015 Feb 24;112(8):E852-61

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PMID: 25675536

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