Conservation of Endo16 expression in sea urchins despite evolutionary divergence in both cis and trans-acting components of transcriptional regulation.
Evolutionary changes in transcriptional regulation undoubtedly play an important role in creating morphological diversity. However, there is little information about the evolutionary dynamics of cis-regulatory sequences. This study examines the functional consequence of evolutionary changes in the Endo16 promoter of sea urchins. The Endo16 gene encodes a large extracellular protein that is expressed in the endoderm and may play a role in cell adhesion. Its promoter has been characterized in exceptional detail in the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. We have characterized the structure and function of the Endo16 promoter from a second sea urchin species, Lytechinus variegatus. The Endo16 promoter sequences have evolved in a strongly mosaic manner since these species diverged approximately 35 million years ago: the most proximal region (module A) is conserved, but the remaining modules (B-G) are unalignable. Despite extensive divergence in promoter sequences, the pattern of Endo16 transcription is largely conserved during embryonic and larval development. Transient expression assays demonstrate that 2.2 kb of upstream sequence in either species is sufficient to drive GFP reporter expression that correctly mimics this pattern of Endo16 transcription. Reciprocal cross-species transient expression assays imply that changes have also evolved in the set of transcription factors that interact with the Endo16 promoter. Taken together, these results suggest that stabilizing selection on the transcriptional output may have operated to maintain a similar pattern of Endo16 expression in S. purpuratus and L. variegatus, despite dramatic divergence in promoter sequence and mechanisms of transcriptional regulation.
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