Species-specific pace of development is associated with differences in protein stability

Abstract

Although many molecular mechanisms controlling developmental processes are evolutionarily conserved, the speed at which the embryo develops can vary substantially between species. For example, the same genetic program, comprising sequential changes in transcriptional states, governs the differentiation of motor neurons in mouse and human, but the tempo at which it operates differs between species. Using in vitro directed differentiation of embryonic stem cells to motor neurons, we show that the program runs more than twice as fast in mouse as in human. This is not due to differences in signaling, nor the genomic sequence of genes or their regulatory elements. Instead, there is an approximately two-fold increase in protein stability and cell cycle duration in human cells compared with mouse cells. This can account for the slower pace of human development and suggests that differences in protein turnover play a role in interspecies differences in developmental tempo.