Evolution and diversification of the CYC/TB1 gene family in Asteraceae—a comparative study in Gerbera (Mutisieae) and sunflower (Heliantheae)

Sari Tähtiharju, Anneke S Rijpkema, Adrien Vetterli, Victor A Albert, Teemu H Teeri, Paula Elomaa
Molecular Biology and Evolution 2012, 29 (4): 1155-66
Plant-specific TCP domain transcription factors have been shown to regulate morphological novelties during plant evolution, including the complex architecture of the Asteraceae inflorescence that involves different types of flowers. We conducted comparative analysis of the CYCLOIDEA/TEOSINTE BRANCHED1 (CYC/TB1) gene family in Gerbera hybrida (gerbera) and Helianthus annuus (sunflower), two species that represent distant tribes within Asteraceae. Our data confirm that the CYC/TB1 gene family has expanded in Asteraceae, a condition that appears to be connected with the increased developmental complexity and evolutionary success of this large plant family. Phylogenetic analysis of the CYC/TB1 gene family revealed both shared and lineage-specific duplications in gerbera and sunflower, corresponding to the three gene lineages previously identified as specific to core eudicots: CYC1, CYC2, and CYC3. Expression analyses of early stages of flower primordia development indicated that especially within the CYC2 clade, with the greatest number of secondary gene duplications, gene expression patterns are conserved between the species and associated with flower and inflorescence development. All sunflower and gerbera CYC2 clade genes showed differential expression between developing flower types, being upregulated in marginal ray (and trans) flowers. One gene in gerbera (GhCYC3) and two in sunflower (HaCYC2d and HaCYC2c) were indicated to be strong candidates as regulators of ray flower identity, a function that is specific for Asteraceae. Our data further showed that other CYC2 clade genes are likely to have more specialized functions at the level of single flowers, including the late functions in floral reproductive organs that may be more conserved across plant families. The expression patterns of CYC1 and CYC3 clade genes showed more differences between the two species but still pointed to possible conserved functions during vegetative plant development. Pairwise protein-protein interaction assays gave the first molecular evidence that CYC/TB1-like proteins function in complexes. Compared with sunflower, the gerbera proteins showed higher capacity for dimerization, between as well as within CYC clades. Our data from two distant species within the Asteraceae suggest that the expansion and the apparent conservation of especially the CYC2 clade CYC/TB1-like genes are associated with the evolution of the increased complexity of the Asteraceae inflorescence architecture.

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