Conserved expression without conserved regulatory sequence: the more things change, the more they stay the same

Trends Genet. 2010 Feb;26(2):66-74. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2009.12.002. Epub 2010 Jan 18.


Regulatory regions with similar transcriptional output often have little overt sequence similarity, both within and between genomes. Although cis- and trans-regulatory changes can contribute to sequence divergence without dramatically altering gene expression outputs, heterologous DNA often functions similarly in organisms that share little regulatory sequence similarities (e.g. human DNA in fish), indicating that trans-regulatory mechanisms tend to diverge more slowly and can accommodate a variety of cis-regulatory configurations. This capacity to 'tinker' with regulatory DNA probably relates to the complexity, robustness and evolvability of regulatory systems, but cause-and-effect relationships among evolutionary processes and properties of regulatory systems remain a topic of debate. The challenge of understanding the concrete mechanisms underlying cis-regulatory evolution - including the conservation of function without the conservation of sequence - relates to the challenge of understanding the function of regulatory systems in general. Currently, we are largely unable to recognize functionally similar regulatory DNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression*
  • Humans
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Transcription, Genetic