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Amphioxus SYCP1: a case of retrogene replacement and co-option of regulatory elements adjacent to the ParaHox cluster

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Retrogenes are formed when an mRNA is reverse transcribed and re-inserted into the genome in a location unrelated to the original locus. If this retrocopy inserts into a transcriptionally favourable locus and is able to carry out its original function, it can, in rare cases, lead to retrogene replacement. This involves the original, often multi-exonic, parental copy being lost whilst the newer single-exon retrogene copy ‘replaces’ the role of the ancestral parent gene. One example of this is amphioxus SYCP1, a gene that encodes a protein used in synaptonemal complex formation during meiosis, and which offers the opportunity to examine how a retrogene evolves after the retrogene replacement event. SYCP1 genes exist as large multi-exonic genes in most animals. AmphiSYCP1, however, contains a single coding exon of ~3200bp and has inserted next to the ParaHox cluster of amphioxus, whilst the multi-exonic ancestral parental copy has been lost. Here, we show that AmphiSYCP1 has not only replaced its parental copy, but has evolved additional regulatory function by co- opting a bidirectional promoter from the nearby AmphiCHIC gene. AmphiSYCP1 has also evolved a de novo, multi-exonic 5’untranslated region that displays distinct regulatory states, in the form of two different isoforms, and has evolved novel expression patterns during amphioxus embryogenesis in addition to its ancestral role in meiosis. Absence of ParaHox-like expression of AmphiSYCP1, despite its proximity to the ParaHox cluster, also suggests this gene is not influenced by any potential pan-cluster regulatory mechanisms, which are seemingly restricted to only the ParaHox genes themselves.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-30
Number of pages18
JournalDevelopment Genes and Evolution
Issue number1
Early online date2 Jan 2018
StatePublished - Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • Amphioxus, ParaHox, Retrogene replacement, SYCPI, Synaptonemal complex, CHIC genes

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