Premetazoan Ancestry of the Myc–Max Network

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The origin of metazoans required the evolution of mechanisms for maintaining differentiated cell types within a multicellular individual, in part through spatially differentiated patterns of gene transcription. The unicellular ancestor of metazoans was presumably capable of regulating gene expression temporally in response to changing environmental conditions, and spatial cell differentiation in metazoans may represent a co-option of preexisting regulatory mechanisms. Myc is a critical regulator of cell growth, proliferation, and death that is found in all metazoans but absent in other multicellular lineages, including fungi and plants. Homologs of Myc and its binding partner, Max, exist in two of the closest living relatives of animals, the choanoflagellate Monosiga brevicollis (Mb) and Capsaspora owczarzaki, a unicellular opisthokont that is closely related to metazoans and choanoflagellates. We find that Myc and Max from M. brevicollis heterodimerize and bind to both canonical and noncanonical E-boxes, the DNA-binding sites through which metazoan Myc proteins act. Moreover, in M. brevicollis, MbMyc protein can be detected in nuclear and flagellar regions. Like metazoan Max proteins, MbMax can form homodimers that bind to E-boxes. However, cross-species dimerization between Mb and human Myc and Max proteins was not observed, suggesting that the binding interface has diverged. Our results reveal that the Myc/Max network arose before the divergence of the choanoflagellate and metazoan lineages. Furthermore, core features of metazoan Myc function, including heterodimerization with Max, binding to E-box sequences in DNA, and localization to the nucleus, predate the origin of metazoans.

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