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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Aug 9;102(32):11367-72. Epub 2005 Jul 29.

The ovalbumin serpins revisited: perspective from the chicken genome of clade B serpin evolution in vertebrates.

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  • 1CBR Institute for Biomedical Research and Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Serpin superfamily proteins, most of which are serine protease inhibitors, share an unusual mechanism rooted in their conserved metastable tertiary structure. Although serpins have been identified in isolated members of archea, bacteria, and plants, a remarkable expansion is found in vertebrates. The chicken protein ovalbumin, a storage protein from egg white, lacking protease inhibitory activity, is an historical member of the superfamily and the founding member of the subgroup known as ov-serpins (ovalbumin-related serpins) or clade B serpins. In the human, ov-serpins include 13 proteins involved in the regulation of inflammation, apoptosis, angiogenesis, and embryogenesis. Here, a detailed analysis of the chicken (Gallus gallus) genome identified 10 clade B serpin genes that map to a single approximately 150-kb locus and contain the signature protein sequence of serpins and the gene structure of ov-serpins, with either seven or eight exons. Orthologues of PAI-2 (SERPINB2), MNEI (SERPINB1), PI-6 (SERPINB6), and maspin (SERPINB5) are highly conserved. Comparison with human ov-serpins identified avian-specific and mammal-specific genes. Importantly, a unique model of mammalian ov-serpin evolution is revealed from the comparative analysis of the chicken and human loci. The presence of a subset of ov-serpin genes in zebrafish (Danio rerio) gives insight into the ancestral locus. This comparative genomic study provides a valuable perspective on the evolutionary pathway for the clade B serpins, allowing the identification of genes with functions that may have been conserved since the origin of vertebrates. In addition, it suggests that "newer" serpins, such as ovalbumin, have contributed to vertebrate adaptation.

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