Molecular biology and evolution vol:19 issue:9 pages:1490-1500
Pax genes are defined by the presence of a paired box that encodes a DNA-binding domain of 128 amino acids. They are involved in the development of the central nervous system, organogenesis, and oncogenesis. The known Pax genes are divided into five groups within two supergroups. By means of a novel combination of evolutionary analysis, in vitro binding assays and in vivo functional analyses, we have identified the key residues that determine the differing DNA-binding properties of the two supergroups and of the Pax-2, 5, 8 and Pax-6 subgroups within supergroup I. The differences in binding properties between the two supergroups are largely caused by amino acid changes at residues 20 and 121 of the paired domain. Although the paired domains of the Pax-2, 5, 8 and the Pax-6 group differ by >19 amino acids. their distinct DNA-binding properties are determined almost completely by a single amino acid change. Thus, a small number of amino acid changes can account in large part for the divergence in binding properties among the known paired domains. Our approach for selecting candidate sites responsible for the functional divergence between genes should also be useful for studying other gene families.