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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jul 20;107(29):12969-74. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914241107. Epub 2010 Jul 6.

Regulatory Factor X (RFX)-mediated transcriptional rewiring of ciliary genes in animals.

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  • 1Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Center for Biosciences at NOVUM, Karolinska Institute, S-141 83 Huddinge, Sweden.


Cilia were present in the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA) and were retained by most organisms spanning all extant eukaryotic lineages, including organisms in the Unikonta (Amoebozoa, fungi, choanoflagellates, and animals), Archaeplastida, Excavata, Chromalveolata, and Rhizaria. In certain animals, including humans, ciliary gene regulation is mediated by Regulatory Factor X (RFX) transcription factors (TFs). RFX TFs bind X-box promoter motifs and thereby positively regulate >50 ciliary genes. Though RFX-mediated ciliary gene regulation has been studied in several bilaterian animals, little is known about the evolutionary conservation of ciliary gene regulation. Here, we explore the evolutionary relationships between RFX TFs and cilia. By sampling the genome sequences of >120 eukaryotic organisms, we show that RFX TFs are exclusively found in unikont organisms (whether ciliated or not), but are completely absent from the genome sequences of all nonunikont organisms (again, whether ciliated or not). Sampling the promoter sequences of 12 highly conserved ciliary genes from 23 diverse unikont and nonunikont organisms further revealed that phylogenetic footprints of X-box promoter motif sequences are found exclusively in ciliary genes of certain animals. Thus, there is no correlation between cilia/ciliary genes and the presence or absence of RFX TFs and X-box promoter motifs in nonanimal unikont and in nonunikont organisms. These data suggest that RFX TFs originated early in the unikont lineage, distinctly after cilia evolved. The evolutionary model that best explains these observations indicates that the transcriptional rewiring of many ciliary genes by RFX TFs occurred early in the animal lineage.

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