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PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 Jul 8;6(7):e1000848. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000848.

Redundancy and the evolution of cis-regulatory element multiplicity.

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Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, USA.


The promoter regions of many genes contain multiple binding sites for the same transcription factor (TF). One possibility is that this multiplicity evolved through transitional forms showing redundant cis-regulation. To evaluate this hypothesis, we must disentangle the relative contributions of different evolutionary mechanisms to the evolution of binding site multiplicity. Here, we attempt to do this using a model of binding site evolution. Our model considers binding sequences and their interactions with TFs explicitly, and allows us to cast the evolution of gene networks into a neutral network framework. We then test some of the model's predictions using data from yeast. Analysis of the model suggested three candidate nonadaptive processes favoring the evolution of cis-regulatory element redundancy and multiplicity: neutral evolution in long promoters, recombination and TF promiscuity. We find that recombination rate is positively associated with binding site multiplicity in yeast. Our model also indicated that weak direct selection for multiplicity (partial redundancy) can play a major role in organisms with large populations. Our data suggest that selection for changes in gene expression level may have contributed to the evolution of multiple binding sites in yeast. We conclude that the evolution of cis-regulatory element redundancy and multiplicity is impacted by many aspects of the biology of an organism: both adaptive and nonadaptive processes, both changes in cis to binding sites and in trans to the TFs that interact with them, both the functional setting of the promoter and the population genetic context of the individuals carrying them.

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