We provide the first comprehensive analysis of any transcription factor family in Cryptosporidium, a basal-branching apicomplexan that is the second leading cause of infant diarrhea globally. AP2 domain-containing proteins have evolved to be the major regulatory family in the phylum to the exclusion of canonical regulators. We show that apicomplexan and perkinsid AP2 domains cluster distinctly from other chromalveolate AP2s. Protein-binding specificity assays of C. parvum AP2 domains combined with motif conservation upstream of co-regulated gene clusters allowed the construction of putative AP2 regulons across the in vitro life cycle. Orthologous Apicomplexan AP2 (ApiAP2) expression has been rearranged relative to the malaria parasite P. falciparum, suggesting ApiAP2 network rewiring during evolution. C. hominis orthologs of putative C. parvum ApiAP2 proteins and target genes show greater than average variation. C. parvum AP2 domains display reduced binding diversity relative to P. falciparum, with multiple domains binding the 5′-TGCAT-3′, 5′-CACACA- 3′ and G-box motifs (5′-G[T/C]GGGG-3′). Many overrepresented motifs in C. parvum upstream regions are not AP2 binding motifs. We propose that C. parvum is less reliant on ApiAP2 regulators in part because it utilizes E2F/DP1 transcription factors. C. parvum may provide clues to the ancestral state of apicomplexan transcriptional regulation, pre-AP2 domination.
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