Divergent evolution toward sex chromosome-specific gene regulation in Drosophila

Genes Dev. 2021 Jul 1;35(13-14):1055-1070. doi: 10.1101/gad.348411.121. Epub 2021 Jun 17.

Abstract

The dosage compensation complex (DCC) of Drosophila identifies its X-chromosomal binding sites with exquisite selectivity. The principles that assure this vital targeting are known from the D. melanogaster model: DCC-intrinsic specificity of DNA binding, cooperativity with the CLAMP protein, and noncoding roX2 RNA transcribed from the X chromosome. We found that in D. virilis, a species separated from melanogaster by 40 million years of evolution, all principles are active but contribute differently to X specificity. In melanogaster, the DCC subunit MSL2 evolved intrinsic DNA-binding selectivity for rare PionX sites, which mark the X chromosome. In virilis, PionX motifs are abundant and not X-enriched. Accordingly, MSL2 lacks specific recognition. Here, roX2 RNA plays a more instructive role, counteracting a nonproductive interaction of CLAMP and modulating DCC binding selectivity. Remarkably, roX2 triggers a stable chromatin binding mode characteristic of DCC. Evidently, X-specific regulation is achieved by divergent evolution of protein, DNA, and RNA components.

Keywords: DNA binding; chromatin; dosage compensation; evolution; long noncoding RNA.