Microfluidic affinity and ChIP-seq analyses converge on a conserved FOXP2-binding motif in chimp and human, which enables the detection of evolutionarily novel targets

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Abstract

The transcription factor forkhead box P2 (FOXP2) is believed to be important in the evolution of human speech. A mutation in its DNA-binding domain causes severe speech impairment. Humans have acquired two coding changes relative to the conserved mammalian sequence. Despite intense interest in FOXP2, it has remained an open question whether the human protein’s DNA-binding specificity and chromatin localization are conserved. Previous in vitro and ChIP-chip studies have provided conflicting consensus sequences for the FOXP2-binding site. Using MITOMI 2.0 microfluidic affinity assays, we describe the binding site of FOXP2 and its affinity profile in base-specific detail for all substitutions of the strongest binding site. We find that human and chimp FOXP2 have similar binding sites that are distinct from previously suggested consensus binding sites. Additionally, through analysis of FOXP2 ChIP-seq data from cultured neurons, we find strong overrepresentation of a motif that matches our in vitro results and identifies a set of genes with FOXP2 binding sites. The FOXP2-binding sites tend to be conserved, yet we identified 38 instances of evolutionarily novel sites in humans. Combined, these data present a comprehensive portrait of FOXP2’s-binding properties and imply that although its sequence specificity has been conserved, some of its genomic binding sites are newly evolved.

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