Evolutionary Dynamics of Floral Homeotic Transcription Factor Protein-Protein Interactions

Madelaine Bartlett, Beth Thompson, Holly Brabazon, Robert Del Gizzi, Thompson Zhang, Clinton Whipple
Molecular Biology and Evolution 2016, 33 (6): 1486-501
Protein-protein interactions (PPIs) have widely acknowledged roles in the regulation of development, but few studies have addressed the timing and mechanism of shifting PPIs over evolutionary history. The B-class MADS-box transcription factors, PISTILLATA (PI) and APETALA3 (AP3) are key regulators of floral development. PI-like (PI(L)) and AP3-like (AP3(L)) proteins from a number of plants, including Arabidopsis thaliana (Arabidopsis) and the grass Zea mays (maize), bind DNA as obligate heterodimers. However, a PI(L) protein from the grass relative Joinvillea can bind DNA as a homodimer. To ascertain whether Joinvillea PI(L) homodimerization is an anomaly or indicative of broader trends, we characterized PI(L) dimerization across the Poales and uncovered unexpected evolutionary lability. Both obligate B-class heterodimerization and PI(L) homodimerization have evolved multiple times in the order, by distinct molecular mechanisms. For example, obligate B-class heterodimerization in maize evolved very recently from PI(L) homodimerization. A single amino acid change, fixed during domestication, is sufficient to toggle one maize PI(L) protein between homodimerization and obligate heterodimerization. We detected a signature of positive selection acting on residues preferentially clustered in predicted sites of contact between MADS-box monomers and dimers, and in motifs that mediate MADS PPI specificity in Arabidopsis. Changing one positively selected residue can alter PI(L) dimerization activity. Furthermore, ectopic expression of a Joinvillea PI(L) homodimer in Arabidopsis can homeotically transform sepals into petals. Our results provide a window into the evolutionary remodeling of PPIs, and show that novel interactions have the potential to alter plant form in a context-dependent manner.

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