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Plant J. 2011 Apr;66(1):94-116. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-313X.2010.04459.x.

Evolutionary and comparative analysis of MYB and bHLH plant transcription factors.

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Plant Biotechnology Center and Department of Molecular Genetics, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


The expansion of gene families encoding regulatory proteins is typically associated with the increase in complexity characteristic of multi-cellular organisms. The MYB and basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) families provide excellent examples of how gene duplication and divergence within particular groups of transcription factors are associated with, if not driven by, the morphological and metabolic diversity that characterize the higher plants. These gene families expanded dramatically in higher plants; for example, there are approximately 339 and 162 MYB and bHLH genes, respectively, in Arabidopsis, and approximately 230 and 111, respectively, in rice. In contrast, the Chlamydomonas genome has only 38 MYB genes and eight bHLH genes. In this review, we compare the MYB and bHLH gene families from structural, evolutionary and functional perspectives. The knowledge acquired on the role of many of these factors in Arabidopsis provides an excellent reference to explore sequence-function relationships in crops and other plants. The physical interaction and regulatory synergy between particular sub-classes of MYB and bHLH factors is perhaps one of the best examples of combinatorial plant gene regulation. However, members of the MYB and bHLH families also interact with a number of other regulatory proteins, forming complexes that either activate or repress the expression of sets of target genes that are increasingly being identified through a diversity of high-throughput genomic approaches. The next few years are likely to witness an increasing understanding of the extent to which conserved transcription factors participate at similar positions in gene regulatory networks across plant species.

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