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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Updated Phylogeny and Protein Structure Predictions Revise the Hypothesis on the Origin of MADS-box Transcription Factors in Land Plants

Qiu, Yichun; Li, Zhen; Walther, Dirk; Koehler, Claudia


MADS-box transcription factors (TFs), among the first TFs extensively studied, exhibit a wide distribution across eukaryotes and play diverse functional roles. Varying by domain architecture, MADS-box TFs in land plants are categorized into Type I (M-type) and Type II (MIKC-type). Type I and II genes have been considered orthologous to the SRF and MEF2 genes in animals, respectively, presumably originating from a duplication before the divergence of eukaryotes. Here, we exploited the increasing availability of eukaryotic MADS-box sequences and reassessed their evolution. While supporting the ancient duplication giving rise to SRF- and MEF2-types, we found that Type I and II genes originated from the MEF2-type genes through another duplication in the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of land plants. Protein structures predicted by AlphaFold2 and OmegaFold support our phylogenetic analyses, with plant Type I and II TFs resembling the MEF2-type structure, rather than SRFs. We hypothesize that the ancestral SRF-type TFs were lost in the MRCA of Archaeplastida (the kingdom Plantae sensu lato). The retained MEF2-type TFs acquired a Keratin-like domain and became MIKC-type before the divergence of Streptophyta. Subsequently in the MRCA of land plants, M-type TFs evolved from a duplicated MIKC-type precursor through loss of the Keratin-like domain, leading to the Type I clade. Both Type I and II TFs expanded and functionally differentiated in concert with the increasing complexity of land plant body architecture. The recruitment of these originally stress-responsive TFs into developmental programs, including those underlying reproduction, may have facilitated the adaptation to the terrestrial environment.


MADS-box transcription factors; land plants; MEF2; Type I/M-type; gene duplication

Published in

Molecular Biology and Evolution
2023, Volume: 40, number: 9, article number: msad194

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