skip to main content

Search for: All records

Creators/Authors contains: "Mackessy, Stephen P."

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  1. Abstract

    The ubiquitous cellular heterogeneity underlying many organism-level phenotypes raises questions about what factors drive this heterogeneity and how these complex heterogeneous systems evolve. Here, we use single-cell expression data from a Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) venom gland to evaluate hypotheses for signaling networks underlying snake venom regulation and the degree to which different venom gene families have evolutionarily recruited distinct regulatory architectures. Our findings suggest that snake venom regulatory systems have evolutionarily co-opted trans-regulatory factors from extracellular signal-regulated kinase and unfolded protein response pathways that specifically coordinate expression of distinct venom toxins in a phased sequence across a single population of secretory cells. This pattern of co-option results in extensive cell-to-cell variation in venom gene expression, even between tandemly duplicated paralogs, suggesting this regulatory architecture has evolved to circumvent cellular constraints. While the exact nature of such constraints remains an open question, we propose that such regulatory heterogeneity may circumvent steric constraints on chromatin, cellular physiological constraints (e.g., endoplasmic reticulum stress or negative protein–protein interactions), or a combination of these. Regardless of the precise nature of these constraints, this example suggests that, in some cases, dynamic cellular constraints may impose previously unappreciated secondary constraints on the evolution of gene regulatory networks that favors heterogeneous expression.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract Background

    Snake venoms are trophic adaptations that represent an ideal model to examine the evolutionary factors that shape polymorphic traits under strong natural selection. Venom compositional variation is substantial within and among venomous snake species. However, the forces shaping this phenotypic complexity, as well as the potential integrated roles of biotic and abiotic factors, have received little attention. Here, we investigate geographic variation in venom composition in a wide-ranging rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis viridis) and contextualize this variation by investigating dietary, phylogenetic, and environmental variables that covary with venom.


    Using shotgun proteomics, venom biochemical profiling, and lethality assays, we identify 2 distinct divergent phenotypes that characterize major axes of venom variation in this species: a myotoxin-rich phenotype and a snake venom metalloprotease (SVMP)-rich phenotype. We find that dietary availability and temperature-related abiotic factors are correlated with geographic trends in venom composition.


    Our findings highlight the potential for snake venoms to vary extensively within species, for this variation to be driven by biotic and abiotic factors, and for the importance of integrating biotic and abiotic variation for understanding complex trait evolution. Links between venom variation and variation in biotic and abiotic factors indicate that venom variation likely results from substantial geographic variation in selection regimes that determine the efficacy of venom phenotypes across populations and snake species. Our results highlight the cascading influence of abiotic factors on biotic factors that ultimately shape venom phenotype, providing evidence for a central role of local selection as a key driver of venom variation.

    more » « less
  3. ABSTRACT The venom glands of reptiles, particularly those of front-fanged advanced snakes, must satisfy conflicting biological demands: rapid synthesis of potentially labile and highly toxic proteins, storage in the gland lumen for long periods, stabilization of the stored secretions, immediate activation of toxins upon deployment and protection of the animal from the toxic effects of its own venom. This dynamic system could serve as a model for the study of a variety of different phenomena involving exocrine gland activation, protein synthesis, stabilization of protein products and secretory mechanisms. However, these studies have been hampered by a lack of a long-term model that can be propagated in the lab (as opposed to whole-animal studies). Numerous attempts have been made to extend the lifetime of venom gland secretory cells, but only recently has an organoid model been shown to have the requisite qualities of recapitulation of the native system, self-propagation and long-term viability (>1 year). A tractable model is now available for myriad cell- and molecular-level studies of venom glands, protein synthesis and secretion. However, venom glands of reptiles are not identical, and many differ very extensively in overall architecture, microanatomy and protein products produced. This Review summarizes the similarities among and differences between venom glands of helodermatid lizards and of rear-fanged and front-fanged snakes, highlighting those areas that are well understood and identifying areas where future studies can fill in significant gaps in knowledge of these ancient, yet fascinating systems. 
    more » « less
  4. Schaack, Sarah (Ed.)
    Abstract Sex chromosomes diverge after the establishment of recombination suppression, resulting in differential sex-linkage of genes involved in genetic sex determination and dimorphic traits. This process produces systems of male or female heterogamety wherein the Y and W chromosomes are only present in one sex and are often highly degenerated. Sex-limited Y and W chromosomes contain valuable information about the evolutionary transition from autosomes to sex chromosomes, yet detailed characterizations of the structure, composition, and gene content of sex-limited chromosomes are lacking for many species. In this study, we characterize the female-specific W chromosome of the prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) and evaluate how recombination suppression and other processes have shaped sex chromosome evolution in ZW snakes. Our analyses indicate that the rattlesnake W chromosome is over 80% repetitive and that an abundance of GC-rich mdg4 elements has driven an overall high degree of GC-richness despite a lack of recombination. The W chromosome is also highly enriched for repeat sequences derived from endogenous retroviruses and likely acts as a “refugium” for these and other retroelements. We annotated 219 putatively functional W-linked genes across at least two evolutionary strata identified based on estimates of sequence divergence between Z and W gametologs. The youngest of these strata is relatively gene-rich, however gene expression across strata suggests retained gene function amidst a greater degree of degeneration following ancient recombination suppression. Functional annotation of W-linked genes indicates a specialization of the W chromosome for reproductive and developmental function since recombination suppression from the Z chromosome. 
    more » « less
  5. Understanding how regulatory mechanisms evolve is critical for understanding the processes that give rise to novel phenotypes. Snake venom systems represent a valuable and tractable model for testing hypotheses related to the evolution of novel regulatory networks, yet the regulatory mechanisms underlying venom production remain poorly understood. Here, we use functional genomics approaches to investigate venom regulatory architecture in the prairie rattlesnake and identify cis -regulatory sequences (enhancers and promoters), trans -regulatory transcription factors, and integrated signaling cascades involved in the regulation of snake venom genes. We find evidence that two conserved vertebrate pathways, the extracellular signal-regulated kinase and unfolded protein response pathways, were co-opted to regulate snake venom. In one large venom gene family (snake venom serine proteases), this co-option was likely facilitated by the activity of transposable elements. Patterns of snake venom gene enhancer conservation, in some cases spanning 50 million yr of lineage divergence, highlight early origins and subsequent lineage-specific adaptations that have accompanied the evolution of venom regulatory architecture. We also identify features of chromatin structure involved in venom regulation, including topologically associated domains and CTCF loops that underscore the potential importance of novel chromatin structure to coevolve when duplicated genes evolve new regulatory control. Our findings provide a model for understanding how novel regulatory systems may evolve through a combination of genomic processes, including tandem duplication of genes and regulatory sequences, cis -regulatory sequence seeding by transposable elements, and diverse transcriptional regulatory proteins controlled by a co-opted regulatory cascade. 
    more » « less