The population genetics of cooperative gene regulation

BMC Evolutionary Biology
Alexander J StewartJoshua B Plotkin


Changes in gene regulatory networks drive the evolution of phenotypic diversity both within and between species. Rewiring of transcriptional networks is achieved either by changes to transcription factor binding sites or by changes to the physical interactions among transcription factor proteins. It has been suggested that the evolution of cooperative binding among factors can facilitate the adaptive rewiring of a regulatory network. We use a population-genetic model to explore when cooperative binding of transcription factors is favored by evolution, and what effects cooperativity then has on the adaptive re-writing of regulatory networks. We consider a pair of transcription factors that regulate multiple targets and overlap in the sets of target genes they regulate. We show that, under stabilising selection, cooperative binding between the transcription factors is favoured provided the amount of overlap between their target genes exceeds a threshold. The value of this threshold depends on several population-genetic factors: strength of selection on binding sites, cost of pleiotropy associated with protein-protein interactions, rates of mutation and population size. Once it is established, we find that cooperative binding of t...Continue Reading


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