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Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2007 Sep-Oct;42(5):355-72.

The Hsp90 capacitor, developmental remodeling, and evolution: the robustness of gene networks and the curious evolvability of metamorphosis.

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Division of Basic Sciences, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington 98109-1024, USA.


Genetic capacitors moderate expression of heritable variation and provide a novel mechanism for rapid evolution. The prototypic genetic capacitor, Hsp90, interfaces stress responses, developmental networks, trait thresholds and expression of wide-ranging morphological changes in Drosophila and other organisms. The Hsp90 capacitor hypothesis, that stress-sensitive storage and release of genetic variation through Hsp90 facilitates adaptive evolution in unpredictable environments, has been challenged by the belief that Hsp90-buffered variation is unconditionally deleterious. Here we review recent results supporting the Hsp90 capacitor hypothesis, highlighting the heritability, selectability, and potential evolvability of Hsp90-buffered traits. Despite a surprising bias toward morphological novelty and typically invariable quantitative traits, Hsp90-buffered changes are remarkably modular, and can be selected to high frequency independent of the expected negative side-effects or obvious correlated changes in other, unselected traits. Recent dissection of cryptic signal transduction variation involved in one Hsp90-buffered trait reveals potentially dozens of normally silent polymorphisms embedded in cell cycle, differentiation and growth control networks. Reduced function of Hsp90 substrates during environmental stress would destabilize robust developmental processes, relieve developmental constraints and plausibly enables genetic network remodeling by abundant cryptic alleles. We speculate that morphological transitions controlled by Hsp90 may fuel the incredible evolutionary lability of metazoan life-cycles.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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