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Open Access Research article

Family expansion and gene rearrangements contributed to the functional specialization of PRDM genes in vertebrates

Irene Fumasoni, Natalia Meani, Davide Rambaldi, Gaia Scafetta, Myriam Alcalay and Francesca D Ciccarelli*

Author Affiliations

Department of Experimental Oncology, European Institute of Oncology, IFOM-IEO Campus, Via Adamello 16, 20139 Milan, Italy

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:187  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-187

Published: 4 October 2007

Abstract

Background

Progressive diversification of paralogs after gene expansion is essential to increase their functional specialization. However, mode and tempo of this divergence remain mostly unclear. Here we report the comparative analysis of PRDM genes, a family of putative transcriptional regulators involved in human tumorigenesis.

Results

Our analysis assessed that the PRDM genes originated in metazoans, expanded in vertebrates and further duplicated in primates. We experimentally showed that fast-evolving paralogs are poorly expressed, and that the most recent duplicates, such as primate-specific PRDM7, acquire tissue-specificity. PRDM7 underwent major structural rearrangements that decreased the number of encoded Zn-Fingers and modified gene splicing. Through internal duplication and activation of a non-canonical splice site (GC-AG), PRDM7 can acquire a novel intron. We also detected an alternative isoform that can retain the intron in the mature transcript and that is predominantly expressed in human melanocytes.

Conclusion

Our findings show that (a) molecular evolution of paralogs correlates with their expression pattern; (b) gene diversification is obtained through massive genomic rearrangements; and (c) splicing modification contributes to the functional specialization of novel genes.