The early expansion and evolutionary dynamics of POU class genes

Mol Biol Evol. 2014 Dec;31(12):3136-47. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu243. Epub 2014 Sep 25.


The POU genes represent a diverse class of animal-specific transcription factors that play important roles in neurogenesis, pluripotency, and cell-type specification. Although previous attempts have been made to reconstruct the evolution of the POU class, these studies have been limited by a small number of representative taxa, and a lack of sequences from basally branching organisms. In this study, we performed comparative analyses on available genomes and sequences recovered through "gene fishing" to better resolve the topology of the POU gene tree. We then used ancestral state reconstruction to map the most likely changes in amino acid evolution for the conserved domains. Our work suggests that four of the six POU families evolved before the last common ancestor of living animals-doubling previous estimates-and were followed by extensive clade-specific gene loss. Amino acid changes are distributed unequally across the gene tree, consistent with a neofunctionalization model of protein evolution. We consider our results in the context of early animal evolution, and the role of POU5 genes in maintaining stem cell pluripotency.

Keywords: EvoDevo; Metazoa; POU; gene duplication; homeobox; stem cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Consensus Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • POU Domain Factors / chemistry
  • POU Domain Factors / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary


  • POU Domain Factors

Associated data

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