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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 May 16;103(20):7765-70. Epub 2006 May 8.

Loss of Siglec expression on T lymphocytes during human evolution.

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  • 1Glycobiology Research and Training Center and Department of Medicine, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


We report here that human T cells give much stronger proliferative responses to specific activation via the T cell receptor (TCR) than those from chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relatives. Nonspecific activation using phytohemagglutinin was robust in chimpanzee T cells, indicating that the much lower response to TCR simulation is not due to any intrinsic inability to respond to an activating stimulus. CD33-related Siglecs are inhibitory signaling molecules expressed on most immune cells and are thought to down-regulate cellular activation pathways via cytosolic immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motifs. Among human immune cells, T lymphocytes are a striking exception, expressing little to none of these molecules. In stark contrast, we find that T lymphocytes from chimpanzees as well as the other closely related "great apes" (bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) express several CD33-related Siglecs on their surfaces. Thus, human-specific loss of T cell Siglec expression occurred after our last common ancestor with great apes, potentially resulting in an evolutionary difference with regard to inhibitory signaling. We confirmed this by studying Siglec-5, which is prominently expressed on chimpanzee lymphocytes, including CD4 T cells. Ab-mediated clearance of Siglec-5 from chimpanzee T cells enhanced TCR-mediated activation. Conversely, primary human T cells and Jurkat cells transfected with Siglec-5 become less responsive; i.e., they behave more like chimpanzee T cells. This human-specific loss of T cell Siglec expression associated with T cell hyperactivity may help explain the strikingly disparate prevalence and severity of T cell-mediated diseases such as AIDS and chronic active hepatitis between humans and chimpanzees.

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