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Plant Physiol. 2006 Apr;140(4):1142-50.

MEKHLA, a novel domain with similarity to PAS domains, is fused to plant homeodomain-leucine zipper III proteins.

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Department of Biosciences and Nutrition and Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics, Karolinska Institutet, SE-141 57 Huddinge, Sweden.


Homeodomain (HD) proteins play important roles in the development of plants, fungi, and animals. Here we identify a novel domain, MEKHLA, in the C terminus of HD-Leu zipper (HD-ZIP) III plant HD proteins that shares similarity with a group of bacterial proteins and a protein from the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. The group of bacterial MEKHLA proteins is found in cyanobacteria and other bacteria often found associated with plants. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that a MEKHLA protein transferred, possibly from a cyanobacterium or an early chloroplast, into the nuclear genome of an early plant in a first step, and attached itself to the C terminus of an HD-ZIP IV homeobox gene in a second step. Further position-specific iterated-BLAST searches with the bacterial MEKHLA proteins revealed a subregion within the MEKHLA domain that shares significant similarity with the PAS domain. The PAS domain is a sensory module found in many proteins through all kingdoms of life. It is involved in light, oxygen, and redox potential sensation. The fact that HD-ZIP III proteins are transcription factors that have this sensory domain attached to their C terminus uncovers a potential new signaling pathway in plants.

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