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Mar Genomics. 2009 Jun;2(2):85-98. doi: 10.1016/j.margen.2009.03.007. Epub 2009 Jul 3.

Intragenomic evolution of a transcriptional enhancer in the genome of Strongylocentrotus purpuratus.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


General principles for how genomic regulatory elements evolve to alter patterns of gene expression remain vague. The purpose of this study was to gain insights into the evolution of genomic regulatory elements by investigating the unique features of a transcriptional enhancer that directs Spec2a gene expression in Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. The Spec2a enhancer is embedded in a repetitive sequence family interspersed throughout the genome. We surveyed the genome and identified 274 of these sequences. They displayed a continuum of sequence divergence defining high and low divergence classes. Alignment of 52 most related to the Spec2a sequence revealed a complex pattern of rearrangements, insertions and deletions, and base-pair changes. A distance tree for the 52 sequences was constructed and correlated with enhancer activity. Unexpectedly, we found a wide range of activities. Notably, repetitive sequences lacking essential cis-elements found in the Spec2a enhancer still had strong activity. We identified short, conserved motifs within the repetitive sequences that may represent novel cis-regulatory elements. Many repetitive sequences with enhancer activity were found nearby genes, suggesting that they regulate gene expression. The results show that the repetitive sequences are rapidly evolving in the S. purpuratus genome and may serve as a renewable pool of transcriptional enhancers.

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