Dosage compensation (DC) across Caenorhabditis species exemplifies an essential process that has undergone rapid co-evolution of protein-DNA interactions central to its mechanism. In C. elegans, recruitment elements on X (rex sites) recruit a condensin-like DC complex (DCC) to hermaphrodite X chromosomes to balance gene expression between the sexes. Recruitment assays in vivo showed that C. elegans rex sites do not recruit the DCC of C. briggsae, and vice versa. To understand how DC complexes and X chromosomes evolved to use different X targeting sequences, we compared DCC subunits and binding sites in C. elegans to those in three species of the C. briggsae clade (15-30 MYR diverged): C. briggsae, its close relative C. nigoni (C. sp. 9), and C. tropicalis (C. sp. 11). By raising antibodies and introducing endogenous tags with TALENs or CRISPR/Cas9, we showed that homologs of both SDC-2, the pivotal X targeting factor, and DPY-27, a DCC-specific condensin subunit, bind X chromosomes of XX animals. Although the DCC shares key components across these four species, the binding sites differ. First, ChIP-seq studies in C. briggsae and C. nigoni identified DCC binding sites that are homologous across these close relatives but differ from C. elegans sites in sequence and location. Second, C. elegans sites use motifs enriched on X (MEX and MEXII) to drive DCC binding, but these motifs are not in C. briggsae or C. nigoni DCC sites and are not X-enriched. Third, we found an X-enriched motif at DCC binding sites of C. briggsae and C. nigoni that is not X-enriched in C. elegans. An oligo with the C. briggsae motif recruits the DCC in C. briggsae, but a similar oligo lacking the motif fails to recruit, establishing the importance of the motif. Fourth, another motif was found in C. briggsae and C. nigoni that shares a few nucleotides with MEX, but its functional divergence was shown by C. elegans recruitment assays. Fifth, two endogenous C. briggsae X-chromosome regions with strong C. elegans MEX motifs fail to recruit the C. briggsae DCC, as assayed by ChIP-seq and recruitment assays. None of these DCC motifs is enriched on the C. tropicalis draft X sequence, supporting further binding site divergence within the C. briggsae clade. Ongoing ChIP-seq studies in C. tropicalis will help determine how C. elegans and C. briggsae clade motifs are evolutionarily related. Comparison of DCC targeting mechanisms across these four species allows us to characterize a rarely captured event: the recent co-evolution of a protein complex and its rapidly diverged target sequences across an entire X chromosome.
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