Transcription factor binding site(s) (TFBS) gain and loss (i.e., turnover) is a well-documented feature of cis-regulatory module (CRM) evolution, yet little attention has been paid to the evolutionary force(s) driving this turnover process. The predominant view, motivated by its widespread occurrence, emphasizes the importance of compensatory mutation and genetic drift. Positive selection, in contrast, although it has been invoked in specific instances of adaptive gene expression evolution, has not been considered as a general alternative to neutral compensatory evolution. In this study we evaluate the two hypotheses by analyzing patterns of single nucleotide polymorphism in the TFBS of well-characterized CRM in two closely related Drosophila species, Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans. An important feature of the analysis is classification of TFBS mutations according to the direction of their predicted effect on binding affinity, which allows gains and losses to be evaluated independently along the two phylogenetic lineages. The observed patterns of polymorphism and divergence are not compatible with neutral evolution for either class of mutations. Instead, multiple lines of evidence are consistent with contributions of positive selection to TFBS gain and loss as well as purifying selection in its maintenance. In discussion, we propose a model to reconcile the finding of selection driving TFBS turnover with constrained CRM function over long evolutionary time.
He, B. Z., Holloway, A. K., Maerkl, S. J., & Kreitman, M. (2011). Does positive selection drive transcription factor binding site turnover? a test with drosophila cis-regulatory modules. PLoS Genetics, 7(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1002053