Insights into the conservation and diversification of the molecular functions of YTHDF proteins

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YT521-B homology (YTH) domain proteins act as readers of N6-methyladenosine (m6A) in mRNA. Members of the YTHDF clade determine properties of m6A-containing mRNAs in the cytoplasm. Vertebrates encode three YTHDF proteins whose possible functional specialization is debated. In land plants, the YTHDF clade has expanded from one member in basal lineages to eleven so-called EVOLUTIONARILY CONSERVED C-TERMINAL REGION1-11 (ECT1-11) proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana, named after the conserved YTH domain placed behind a long N-terminal intrinsically disordered region (IDR). ECT2, ECT3 and ECT4 show genetic redundancy in stimulation of primed stem cell division, but the origin and implications of YTHDF expansion in higher plants are unknown, as it is unclear whether it involves acquisition of fundamentally different molecular properties, in particular of their divergent IDRs. Here, we use functional complementation of ect2/ect3/ect4 mutants to test whether different YTHDF proteins can perform the same function when similarly expressed in leaf primordia. We show that stimulation of primordial cell division relies on an ancestral molecular function of the m6A-YTHDF axis in land plants that is present in bryophytes and is conserved over YTHDF diversification, as it appears in all major clades of YTHDF proteins in flowering plants. Importantly, although our results indicate that the YTH domains of all arabidopsis ECT proteins have m6A-binding capacity, lineage-specific neo-functionalization of ECT1, ECT9 and ECT11 happened after late duplication events, and involves altered properties of both the YTH domains, and, especially, of the IDRs. We also identify two biophysical properties recurrent in IDRs of YTHDF proteins able to complement ect2 ect3 ect4 mutants, a clear phase separation propensity and a charge distribution that creates electric dipoles. Human and fly YTHDFs do not have IDRs with this combination of properties and cannot replace ECT2/3/4 function in arabidopsis, perhaps suggesting different molecular activities of YTHDF proteins between major taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1010980
JournalPLOS Genetics
Issue number10
Number of pages37
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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Copyright: © 2023 Flores-Téllez et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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