Eumetazoan cryptochrome phylogeny and evolution

Genome Biol Evol. 2015 Jan 18;7(2):601-19. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evv010.


Cryptochromes (Crys) are light sensing receptors that are present in all eukaryotes. They mainly absorb light in the UV/blue spectrum. The extant Crys consist of two subfamilies, which are descendants of photolyases but are now involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms. So far, knowledge about the evolution, phylogeny, and expression of cry genes is still scarce. The inclusion of cry sequences from a wide range of bilaterian species allowed us to analyze their phylogeny in detail, identifying six major Cry subgroups. Selective gene inactivations and stabilizations in multiple chordate as well as arthropod lineages suggest several sub- and/or neofunctionalization events. An expression study performed in zebrafish, the model organism harboring the largest amount of crys, showed indeed only partially overlapping expression of paralogous mRNA, supporting gene sub- and/or neofunctionalization. Moreover, the daily cry expression in the adult zebrafish retina indicated varying oscillation patterns in different cell types. Our extensive phylogenetic analysis provides for the first time an overview of cry evolutionary history. Although several, especially parasitic or blind species, have lost all cry genes, crustaceans have retained up to three crys, teleosts possess up to seven, and tetrapods up to four crys. The broad and cyclic expression pattern of all cry transcripts in zebrafish retinal layers implies an involvement in retinal circadian processes and supports the hypothesis of several autonomous circadian clocks present in the vertebrate retina.

Keywords: circadian; cryptochrome; evolution; phylogeny; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cryptochromes / genetics*
  • Cryptochromes / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Larva / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Retina / metabolism
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Zebrafish / genetics


  • Cryptochromes
  • RNA, Messenger