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Mech Dev. 1995 Aug;52(2-3):225-32.

The extra sex combs protein is highly conserved between Drosophila virilis and Drosophila melanogaster.

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Department of Genetics, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106-4955, USA.


Extra sex combs (esc) is one of the Polycomb Group genes, whose products are required for long term maintenance of the spatially restricted domains of homeotic gene expression initially established by the products of the segmentation genes. We recently showed that the esc protein contains five copies of the WD motif, which in other proteins has been directly implicated in protein-protein interactions. Mutations affecting the WD repeats of the esc protein indicate that they are essential for its function as a repressor of the homeotic genes. We proposed that they may mediate interactions between esc and other Polycomb Group proteins, recruiting them to their target genes, perhaps by additional interactions with transiently expressed repressors such as hunchback. To further investigate the functional importance of the WD motifs and identify other functionally important regions of the esc protein, we have begun to determine its evolutionary conservation by characterizing the esc gene from Drosophila virilis, a distantly related Drosophila species. We show that the esc protein is highly conserved between these species, particularly its WD motifs. Their high degree of conservation, particularly at positions which are not conserved in the WD consensus derived from alignment of all known WD motifs, suggests that each of the WD repeats in the esc protein is functionally specialized and that this specialization has been highly conserved during evolution. Its highly charged N-terminus exhibits the greatest divergence, but even these differences are conservative of its predicted physical properties. These observations suggest that the esc protein is functionally compact, nearly every residue making an important contribution to its function.

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