Uncoupled evolution of the Polycomb system and deep origin of non-canonical PRC1

Bastiaan de Potter, Maximilian W D Raas, Michael F Seidl, C Peter Verrijzer, Berend Snel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Polycomb group proteins, as part of the Polycomb repressive complexes, are essential in gene repression through chromatin compaction by canonical PRC1, mono-ubiquitylation of histone H2A by non-canonical PRC1 and tri-methylation of histone H3K27 by PRC2. Despite prevalent models emphasizing tight functional coupling between PRC1 and PRC2, it remains unclear whether this paradigm indeed reflects the evolution and functioning of these complexes. Here, we conduct a comprehensive analysis of the presence or absence of cPRC1, nPRC1 and PRC2 across the entire eukaryotic tree of life, and find that both complexes were present in the Last Eukaryotic Common Ancestor (LECA). Strikingly, ~42% of organisms contain only PRC1 or PRC2, showing that their evolution since LECA is largely uncoupled. The identification of ncPRC1-defining subunits in unicellular relatives of animals and fungi suggests ncPRC1 originated before cPRC1, and we propose a scenario for the evolution of cPRC1 from ncPRC1. Together, our results suggest that crosstalk between these complexes is a secondary development in evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1144
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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