Changes in gene regulatory networks are a major source of evolutionary novelty1,2,3. Here we describe a specific type of network rewiring event, one that intercalates a new level of transcriptional control into an ancient circuit. We deduce that, over evolutionary time, the direct ancestral connections between a regulator and its target genes were broken and replaced by indirect connections, preserving the overall logic of the ancestral circuit but producing a new behaviour. The example was uncovered through a series of experiments in three ascomycete yeasts: the bakers’ yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the dairy yeast Kluyveromyces lactis and the human pathogen Candida albicans. All three species have three cell types: two mating-competent cell forms (a and α) and the product of their mating (a/α), which is mating-incompetent. In the ancestral mating circuit, two homeodomain proteins, Mata1 and Matα2, form a heterodimer that directly represses four genes that are expressed only in a and α cells and are required for mating4,5,6. In a relatively recent ancestor of K. lactis, a reorganization occurred. The Mata1–Matα2 heterodimer represses the same four genes (known as the core haploid-specific genes) but now does so indirectly through an intermediate regulatory protein, Rme1. The overall logic of the ancestral circuit is preserved (haploid-specific genes ON in a and α cells and OFF in a/α cells), but a new phenotype was produced by the rewiring: unlike S. cerevisiae and C. albicans, K. lactis integrates nutritional signals, by means of Rme1, into the decision of whether or not to mate.
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We thank Q. Mitrovich, O. Homann, A. Hernday, M. Miller, C. Cain, T. Sorrells and H. Madhani for helpful discussions and technical contributions; and S. Åström for generously providing the K. lactis strains used in this study. The S. cerevisiae strains were a gift from the H. Madhani and J. Li laboratories. The work was funded by grant RO1 GM037049 from the National Institutes of Health. L.N.B. is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Booth, L., Tuch, B. & Johnson, A. Intercalation of a new tier of transcription regulation into an ancient circuit. Nature 468, 959–963 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature09560
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