Adaptive evolution in zinc finger transcription factors

PLoS Genet. 2009 Jan;5(1):e1000325. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000325. Epub 2009 Jan 2.


The majority of human genes are conserved among mammals, but some gene families have undergone extensive expansion in particular lineages. Here, we present an evolutionary analysis of one such gene family, the poly-zinc-finger (poly-ZF) genes. The human genome encodes approximately 700 members of the poly-ZF family of putative transcriptional repressors, many of which have associated KRAB, SCAN, or BTB domains. Analysis of the gene family across the tree of life indicates that the gene family arose from a small ancestral group of eukaryotic zinc-finger transcription factors through many repeated gene duplications accompanied by functional divergence. The ancestral gene family has probably expanded independently in several lineages, including mammals and some fishes. Investigation of adaptive evolution among recent paralogs using d(N)/d(S) analysis indicates that a major component of the selective pressure acting on these genes has been positive selection to change their DNA-binding specificity. These results suggest that the poly-ZF genes are a major source of new transcriptional repression activity in humans and other primates.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Conformation
  • Repressor Proteins / chemistry
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Transcription Factors / chemistry
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Zinc Fingers / genetics*


  • Repressor Proteins
  • Transcription Factors