Nuclear receptors form a superfamily of ligand-activated transcription factors that regulate various physiological functions, from development to homeostasis, in metazoans. The superfamily contains not only receptors for known ligands but also a large number of so-called orphan receptors for which ligands do not exist or have not been identified. The evolution of ligand-binding capacity of nuclear receptors may involve either secondary loss in orphan receptors, or evolutionary acquisition of ligand-binding capacity in liganded receptors. In this review, we present arguments from phylogenetic, functional and structural studies that support the hypothesis that there have been several independent gains of ligand-binding ability of nuclear receptors during metazoan evolution.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.