Background: Sox domain containing genes are important metazoan transcriptional regulators implicated in a wide rage of developmental processes. The vertebrate B subgroup contains the Sox1, Sox2 and Sox3 genes that have early functions in neural development. Previous studies show that Drosophila Group B genes have been functionally conserved since they play essential roles in early neural specification and mutations in the Drosophila Dichaete and SoxN genes can be rescued with mammalian Sox genes. Despite their importance, the extent and organisation of the Group B family in Drosophila has not been fully characterised, an important step in using Drosophila to examine conserved aspects of Group B Sox gene function.
Results: We have used the directed cDNA sequencing along with the output from the publicly-available genome sequencing projects to examine the structure of Group B Sox domain genes in Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila pseudoobscura, Anopheles gambiae and Apis mellifora. All of the insect genomes contain four genes encoding Group B proteins, two of which are intronless, as is the case with vertebrate group B genes. As has been previously reported and unusually for Group B genes, two of the insect group B genes, Sox21a and Sox21b, contain introns within their DNA-binding domains. We find that the highly unusual multi-exon structure of the Sox21b gene is common to the insects. In addition, we find that three of the group B Sox genes are organised in a linked cluster in the insect genomes. By in situ hybridisation we show that the pattern of expression of each of the four group B genes during embryogenesis is conserved between D. melanogaster and D. pseudoobscura.
Conclusion: The DNA-binding domain sequences and genomic organisation of the group B genes have been conserved over 300 My of evolution since the last common ancestor of the Hymenoptera and the Diptera. Our analysis suggests insects have two Group B1 genes, SoxN and Dichaete, and two Group B2 genes. The genomic organisation of Dichaete and another two Group B genes in a cluster, suggests they may be under concerted regulatory control. Our analysis suggests a simple model for the evolution of group B Sox genes in insects that differs from the proposed evolution of vertebrate Group B genes.