Alternate wiring of a KNOXI genetic network underlies differences in leaf development of A. thaliana and C. hirsuta

Genes Dev. 2015 Nov 15;29(22):2391-404. doi: 10.1101/gad.269050.115.


Two interrelated problems in biology are understanding the regulatory logic and predictability of morphological evolution. Here, we studied these problems by comparing Arabidopsis thaliana, which has simple leaves, and its relative, Cardamine hirsuta, which has dissected leaves comprising leaflets. By transferring genes between the two species, we provide evidence for an inverse relationship between the pleiotropy of SHOOTMERISTEMLESS (STM) and BREVIPEDICELLUS (BP) homeobox genes and their ability to modify leaf form. We further show that cis-regulatory divergence of BP results in two alternative configurations of the genetic networks controlling leaf development. In C. hirsuta, ChBP is repressed by the microRNA164A (MIR164A)/ChCUP-SHAPED COTYLEDON (ChCUC) module and ChASYMMETRIC LEAVES1 (ChAS1), thus creating cross-talk between MIR164A/CUC and AS1 that does not occur in A. thaliana. These different genetic architectures lead to divergent interactions of network components and growth regulation in each species. We suggest that certain regulatory genes with low pleiotropy are predisposed to readily integrate into or disengage from conserved genetic networks influencing organ geometry, thus rapidly altering their properties and contributing to morphological divergence.

Keywords: CUP-SHAPED COTYLEDON; Cardamine hirsuta; KNOXI genes; compound leaf; pleiotropy; regulatory evolution.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis / anatomy & histology
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism
  • Cardamine / anatomy & histology
  • Cardamine / genetics*
  • Cardamine / growth & development*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves* / anatomy & histology
  • Plant Leaves* / genetics
  • Plant Leaves* / growth & development
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Knox1 protein, plant
  • MicroRNAs
  • Plant Proteins
  • STM protein, Arabidopsis