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KRAB Zinc Finger Proteins coordinate across evolutionary time scales to battle retroelements

By Jason D. Fernandes, Maximilian Haeussler, Joel Armstrong, Kristof Tigyi, Joshua Gu, Natalie Filippi, Jessica Pierce, Tiffany Thisner, Paola Angulo, Sol Katzman, Benedict Paten, David Haussler, Sofie R. Salama

Posted 27 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/429563

KRAB Zinc Finger Proteins (KZNFs) are the largest and fastest evolving family of human transcription factors. The evolution of this protein family is closely linked to the tempo of retrotransposable element (RTE) invasions, with specific KZNF family members demonstrated to transcriptionally repress specific families of RTEs. The competing selective pressures between RTEs and the KZNFs results in evolutionary arms races whereby KZNFs evolve to recognize RTEs, while RTEs evolve to escape KZNF recognition. Evolutionary analyses of the primate-specific RTE family L1PA and two of its KZNF binders, ZNF93 and ZNF649, reveal specific nucleotide and amino changes consistent with an arms race scenario. Our results suggest a model whereby ZNF649 and ZNF93 worked together to target independent motifs within the L1PA RTE lineage. L1PA elements eventually escaped the concerted action of this KZNF "team" over ~30 million years through two distinct mechanisms: a slow accumulation of point mutations in the ZNF649 binding site and a rapid, massive deletion of the entire ZNF93 binding site.

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