Across the plant kingdom, phytochrome (PHY) photoreceptors play an important role during adaptive and developmental responses to light. In Arabidopsis thaliana, light-activated PHYs accumulate in the nucleus, where they regulate downstream signaling components, such as phytochrome interacting factors (PIFs). PIFs are transcription factors that act as repressors of photomorphogenesis; their inhibition by PHYs leads to substantial changes in gene expression. The nuclear function of PHYs, however, has so far been investigated in only a few non-seed plants. Here, we identified putative target genes of PHY signaling in the moss Physcomitrella patens and found light-regulated genes that are putative orthologs of PIF-controlled genes in Arabidopsis. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that an ancestral PIF-like gene was already present in streptophyte algae, i.e., before the water-to-land transition of plants. The PIF homologs in the genome of P. patens resemble Arabidopsis PIFs in their protein domain structure, molecular properties, and physiological effects, albeit with notable differences in the motif-dependent PHY interaction. Our results suggest that P. patens PIFs are involved in PHY signaling. The PHY-PIF signaling node that relays light signals to target genes has been largely conserved during land plant evolution, with evidence of lineage-specific diversification.
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