Contrasting Evolutionary Dynamics of the Developmental Regulator PAX9, among Bats, with Evidence for a Novel Post-Transcriptional Regulatory Mechanism

Caleb D. Phillips, Boyd Butler, John W. Fondon, Hugo Mantilla-Meluk, Robert J. Baker

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11 Scopus citations


Morphological evolution can be the result of natural selection favoring modification of developmental signaling pathways. However, little is known about the genetic basis of such phenotypic diversity. Understanding these mechanisms is difficult for numerous reasons, yet studies in model organisms often provide clues about the major developmental pathways involved. The paired-domain gene, PAX9, is known to be a key regulator of development, particularly of the face and teeth. In this study, using a comparative genetics approach, we investigate PAX9 molecular evolution among mammals, focusing on craniofacially diversified (Phyllostomidae) and conserved (Vespertilionidae) bat families, and extend our comparison to other orders of mammal. Open-reading frame analysis disclosed signatures of selection, in which a small percentage of residues vary, and lineages acquire different combinations of variation through recurrent substitution and lineage specific changes. A few instances of convergence for specific residues were observed between morphologically convergent bat lineages. Bioinformatic analysis for unknown PAX9 regulatory motifs indicated a novel post-transcriptional regulatory mechanism involving a Musashi protein. This regulation was assessed through fluorescent reporter assays and gene knockdowns. Results are compatible with the hypothesis that the number of Musashi binding-elements in PAX9 mRNA proportionally regulates protein translation rate. Although a connection between morphology and binding element frequency was not apparent, results indicate this regulation would vary among craniofacially divergent bat species, but be static among conserved species. Under this model, Musashi's regulatory control of alternative human PAX9 isoforms would also vary. The presence of Musashi-binding elements within PAX9 of all mammals examined, chicken, zebrafish, and the fly homolog of PAX9, indicates this regulatory mechanism is ancient, originating basal to much of the animal phylogeny.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere57649
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 28 2013


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