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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Rapid sequence divergence in mammalian beta-defensins by adaptive evolution.

beta-Defensin genes encode broad spectrum antimicrobial cationic peptides. We have analysed the largest murine and human clusters of these genes, which localise to mouse and human chromosome 8. Using hidden Markov models, we identified novel mouse and human beta-defensin genes. We subsequently found full-length expressed transcripts for these novel genes. Expression in the mouse was high in brain and reproductive tissues. Fourteen murine beta-defensins could be grouped into two clear sub-groups by virtue of their position and high signal sequence (exon 1 encoded) identity. In contrast, there was a very low level of sequence conservation in the exon 2 region encoding the mature antimicrobial peptide. Evolutionary analysis revealed strong evidence that following gene duplication, exon 1 and surrounding non-coding DNA show little divergence within subfamilies. The focus for rapid sequence divergence is localised in the DNA encoding the mature peptide and this is driven by accelerated positive selection. In the human we also conclude that the locus has evolved by successive rounds of duplication followed by substantial divergence involving positive selection, to produce a diverse cluster of paralogous genes prior to human-baboon divergence. This mechanism of adaptive evolution is consistent with the role of this gene family as defence against bacterial pathogens. In order to look at function of these rapidly evolving genes, we characterised one of the novel mouse beta-defensin genes. This gene deviates from the canonical six cysteine motif present in the mature functional peptide of all other beta defensins. This defensin related gene (Defr1) is most highly expressed in testis and heart and the genomic organisation is highly similar to Defb3-6. A synthetic Defr1 peptide was shown to exist as a dimer and yet displayed both antimicrobial and chemotactic activity. The antimicrobial activity of Defr1 against S. aureus, E. coli and B. cepacia was found to be reduced in raised concentration of NaCl, but its action against P. aeruginosa was independent of NaCl concentration. These data have major implications on the structure and functions of these important host defence molecules.[1]


  1. Rapid sequence divergence in mammalian beta-defensins by adaptive evolution. Maxwell, A.I., Morrison, G.M., Dorin, J.R. Mol. Immunol. (2003) [Pubmed]
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