Ancestral resurrection of anthropoid estrogen receptor β demonstrates functional consequences of positive selection

Amy Weckle, Michael R. McGowen, Jun Xing, Caoyi Chen, Kirstin N. Sterner, Zhuo Cheng Hou, Roberto Romero, Derek E. Wildman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anthropoid primates arose during the Eocene approximately 55 million years ago (mya), and extant anthropoids share a most recent common ancestor ∼40 mya. Paleontology has been very successful at describing the morphological phenotypes of extinct anthropoids. Less well understood is the molecular biology of these extinct species as well as the phenotypic consequences of evolutionary variation in their genomes. Here we resurrect the most recent common ancestral anthropoid estrogen receptor β gene (ESR2) and demonstrate that the function of this ancestral estrogen receptor has been maintained during human descent but was altered during early New World monkey (NWM) evolution by becoming a more potent transcriptional activator. We tested hypotheses of adaptive evolution in the protein coding sequences of ESR2, and determined that ESR2 evolved via episodic positive selection on the NWM stem lineage. We separately co-transfected ESR2 constructs for human, NWM, and the anthropoid ancestor along with reporter gene vectors and performed hormone binding dose response experiments that measure transactivation activity. We found the transactivation potentials of the ancestral and human sequences to be significantly lower (p < 0.0001 in each comparison) than that of the NWM when treated with estradiol, the most prevalent estrogen. We conclude the difference in fold activation is due to positive selection in the NWM ERβ ligand binding domain. Our study validates inferential methods for detecting adaptive evolution that predict functional consequences of nucleotide substitutions and points a way toward examining the functional consequences of positive Darwinian selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-9
Number of pages8
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Adaptive evolution
  • Ateles fusciceps
  • Endogenous
  • Exogenous
  • New World monkey
  • Old World monkey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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