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Recurrent but Short-Lived Duplications of Centromeric Proteins in Holocentric Caenorhabditis Species

By October 12, 2022No Comments

Centromeric histones (CenH3s) are essential for chromosome inheritance during cell division in most eukaryotes. CenH3 genes have rapidly evolved and undergone repeated gene duplications and diversification in many plant and animal species. In Caenorhabditis species, two independent duplications of CenH3 (named hcp-3 for HoloCentric chromosome-binding Protein 3) were previously identified in C. elegans and C. remanei. Using phylogenomic analyses in thirty-two Caenorhabditis species, we find strict retention of the ancestral hcp-3 gene and ten independent duplications. Most hcp-3L (hcp-3-like) paralogs are only found in 1-2 species, are expressed in both males and females/hermaphrodites, and encode histone fold domains with 69-100% identity to ancestral hcp-3. We identified novel N-terminal protein motifs, including putative kinetochore protein-interacting motifs and a potential separase cleavage site, which are well conserved across Caenorhabditis HCP-3 proteins. Other N-terminal motifs vary in their retention across paralogs or species, revealing potential sub-functionalization or functional loss following duplication. An N-terminal extension in the hcp-3L gene of C. afra revealed an unprecedented protein fusion, where hcp-3L fused to duplicated segments from hcp-4 (nematode CENP-C). By extending our analyses beyond CenH3, we found gene duplications of six inner and outer kinetochore genes in Caenorhabditis, which appear to have been retained independent of hcp-3 duplications. Our findings suggest that centromeric protein duplications occur frequently in Caenorhabditis nematodes, are selectively retained for short evolutionary periods, then degenerate or are lost entirely. We hypothesize that unique challenges associated with holocentricity in Caenorhabditis may lead to this rapid ‘revolving door’ of kinetochore protein paralogs.