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J Mol Evol. 2001 Sep;53(3):172-9.

Common history at the origin of the position-function correlation in transcriptional regulators in archaea and bacteria.

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Programa de Biología Molecular Computacional, Centro de Investigación sobre Fijación de Nitrógeno, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cuernavaca, Morelos 62110, México.


Regulatory proteins in Escherichia coli with a helix-turn-helix (HTH) DNA binding motif show a position-function correlation such that repressors have this motif predominantly at the N terminus, whereas activators have the motif at the C-terminus extreme. Using this initial collection we identified by sequence comparison the exhaustive set of transcriptional regulators in 17 bacterial and 6 archaeal genomes. This enlarged set shows the same position-function correlation. The main question we address is whether this correlation is the result of common origin in evolution or the result of convergence. Evidence is presented supporting a common history at the origin of this correlation. We show the existence of a supergroup of eight repressor protein families sharing a conserved extended sequence comprising the classic HTH. Two of these repressor families (MarR and AsnC) originated before the divergence of Archaea and Bacteria. They are proposed at the origin of HTH-bearing transcriptional regulators currently present in Bacteria. The group of LysR proteins, with the HTH also at the N terminus, offers a control to the argument, since it shows clearly distinctive structural, functional, and evolutionary properties. This group of activator proteins, suggested to have originated within the Bacteria, has an advantageous gene organization to facilitate its horizontal transfer-used to conquer some Archaea-as well as negative autoregulation convenient for homeostasis, all of which agrees with this being the largest family in Bacteria. These results suggest that if shuffling of motifs occurred in Bacteria, it occurred only early in the history of these proteins, as opposed to what is observed in eukaryotic regulators.

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