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Mol Biol Evol. 2003 Apr;20(4):541-53. Epub 2003 Mar 5.

Rapid divergence of the ecdysone receptor in Diptera and Lepidoptera suggests coevolution between ECR and USP-RXR.

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  • 1UMR 5534 du CNRS, Universit√© Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Villeurbanne Cedex, France.


Ecdysteroid hormones are major regulators in reproduction and development of insects, including larval molts and metamorphosis. The functional ecdysone receptor is a heterodimer of ECR (NR1H1) and USP-RXR (NR2B4), which is the orthologue of vertebrate retinoid X receptors (RXR alpha, beta, gamma). Both proteins belong to the superfamily of nuclear hormone receptors, ligand-dependent transcription factors that share two conserved domains: the DNA-binding domain (DBD) and the ligand-binding domain (LBD). In order to gain further insight into the evolution of metamorphosis and gene regulation by ecdysone in arthropods, we performed a phylogenetic analysis of both partners of the heterodimer ECR/USP-RXR. Overall, 38 USP-RXR and 19 ECR protein sequences, from 33 species, have been used for this analysis. Interestingly, sequence alignments and structural comparisons reveal high divergence rates, for both ECR and USP-RXR, specifically among Diptera and Lepidoptera. The most impressive differences affect the ligand-binding domain of USP-RXR. In addition, ECR sequences show variability in other domains, namely the DNA-binding and the carboxy-terminal F domains. Our data provide the first evidence that ECR and USP-RXR may have coevolved during holometabolous insect diversification, leading to a functional divergence of the ecdysone receptor. These results have general implications on fundamental aspects of insect development, evolution of nuclear receptors, and the design of specific insecticides.

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