Vertebrate (cellular retinaldehyde-binding protein) and Drosophila (prolonged depolarization afterpotential is not apparent [PINTA]) proteins with a CRAL-TRIO domain transport retinal-based chromophores that bind to opsin proteins and are necessary for phototransduction. The CRAL-TRIO domain gene family is composed of genes that encode proteins with a common N-terminal structural domain. Although there is an expansion of this gene family in Lepidoptera, there is no lepidopteran ortholog of pinta. Further, the function of these genes in lepidopterans has not yet been established. Here, we explored the molecular evolution and expression of CRAL-TRIO domain genes in the butterfly Heliconius melpomene in order to identify a member of this gene family as a candidate chromophore transporter. We generated and searched a four tissue transcriptome and searched a reference genome for CRAL-TRIO domain genes. We expanded an insect CRAL-TRIO domain gene phylogeny to include H. melpomene and used 18 genomes from 4 subspecies to assess copy number variation. A transcriptome-wide differential expression analysis comparing four tissue types identified a CRAL-TRIO domain gene, Hme CTD31, upregulated in heads suggesting a potential role in vision for this CRAL-TRIO domain gene. RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry confirmed that Hme CTD31 and its protein product are expressed in the retina, specifically in primary and secondary pigment cells and in tracheal cells. Sequencing of eye protein extracts that fluoresce in the ultraviolet identified Hme CTD31 as a possible chromophore binding protein. Although we found several recent duplications and numerous copy number variants in CRAL-TRIO domain genes, we identified a single copy pinta paralog that likely binds the chromophore in butterflies.© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Journal: Genome biology and evolution