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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Apr 25;97(9):4701-6.

Evolution of the rodent eosinophil-associated RNase gene family by rapid gene sorting and positive selection.

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Laboratory of Host Defenses, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


The mammalian RNase A superfamily comprises a diverse array of ribonucleolytic proteins that have a variety of biochemical activities and physiological functions. Two rapidly evolving RNases of higher primates are of particular interest as they are major secretory proteins of eosinophilic leukocytes and have been found to possess anti-pathogen activities in vitro. To understand how these RNases acquired this function during evolution and to develop animal models for the study of their functions in vivo, it is necessary to investigate these genes in many species. Here, we report the sequences of 38 functional genes and 23 pseudogenes of the eosinophil-associated RNase (EAR) family from 5 rodent species. Our phylogenetic analysis of these genes showed a clear pattern of evolution by a rapid birth-and-death process and gene sorting, a process characterized by rapid gene duplication and deactivation occurring differentially among lineages. This process ultimately generates distinct or only partially overlapping inventories of the genes, even in closely related species. Positive Darwinian selection also contributed to the diversification of these EAR genes. The striking similarity between the evolutionary patterns of the EAR genes and those of the major histocompatibility complex, immunoglobulin, and T cell receptor genes stands in strong support of the hypothesis that host-defense and generation of diversity are among the primary physiological function of the rodent EARs. The discovery of a large number of divergent EARs suggests the intriguing possibility that these proteins have been specifically tailored to fight against distinct rodent pathogens.

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