Divergence of regulatory networks governed by the orthologous transcription factors FLC and PEP1 in Brassicaceae species

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Dec 19;114(51):E11037-E11046. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1618075114. Epub 2017 Dec 4.


Genome-wide landscapes of transcription factor (TF) binding sites (BSs) diverge during evolution, conferring species-specific transcriptional patterns. The rate of divergence varies in different metazoan lineages but has not been widely studied in plants. We identified the BSs and assessed the effects on transcription of FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC) and PERPETUAL FLOWERING 1 (PEP1), two orthologous MADS-box TFs that repress flowering and confer vernalization requirement in the Brassicaceae species Arabidopsis thaliana and Arabis alpina, respectively. We found that only 14% of their BSs were conserved in both species and that these contained a CArG-box that is recognized by MADS-box TFs. The CArG-box consensus at conserved BSs was extended compared with the core motif. By contrast, species-specific BSs usually lacked the CArG-box in the other species. Flowering-time genes were highly overrepresented among conserved targets, and their CArG-boxes were widely conserved among Brassicaceae species. Cold-regulated (COR) genes were also overrepresented among targets, but the cognate BSs and the identity of the regulated genes were usually different in each species. In cold, COR gene transcript levels were increased in flc and pep1-1 mutants compared with WT, and this correlated with reduced growth in pep1-1 Therefore, FLC orthologs regulate a set of conserved target genes mainly involved in reproductive development and were later independently recruited to modulate stress responses in different Brassicaceae lineages. Analysis of TF BSs in these lineages thus distinguishes widely conserved targets representing the core function of the TF from those that were recruited later in evolution.

Keywords: Arabidopsis; Arabis alpina; binding-site evolution; flowering; vernalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / metabolism
  • Binding Sites
  • Brassicaceae / genetics*
  • Brassicaceae / metabolism*
  • Environment
  • Flowers / genetics
  • Flowers / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genetic Variation
  • MADS Domain Proteins / genetics
  • MADS Domain Proteins / metabolism
  • Nucleotide Motifs
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Protein Binding
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • FLF protein, Arabidopsis
  • MADS Domain Proteins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Transcription Factors