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J Mol Evol. 2005 Nov;61(5):608-19. Epub 2005 Oct 4.

Gamma chain receptor interleukins: evidence for positive selection driving the evolution of cell-to-cell communicators in the mammalian immune system.

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Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution Laboratory, School of Biotechnology, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland.


The interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2R) gamma chain, or common gamma chain (gammac), is the hub of a protein interaction network in the mammalia that is central to defense against disease. It is the indispensable subunit of the functional receptor complexes for a group of interleukins known as the gamma-chain-dependent interleukins (IL-2, IL-4, -7, -9, -15, and -21). The gammac links these proteins through their interaction with it and their competition for its recruitment. The gammac-dependent interleukins also interact with each other to either enhance or suppress expression through manipulation of expression of receptor subunits. Given the influence of protein-protein interactions on evolution, such as those documented for many genes including the reproductive proteins of the sperm and egg coat, here we have asked whether there is a common thread in the evolution of these interleukins. Our findings indicate that positive selection has acted by fixing a large number of amino acid replacement mutations in every single one of these interleukins, this adaptive evolution is also observed in a lineage-specific manner. Crucially, however, there does not appear to have ever been an instance of adaptive evolution in the gammac chain itself, thereby providing an insight into the evolution of this hub protein. These findings highlight the importance of adaptive evolutionary events in the evolution of this central network in the immune system and suggest underlying causes for differences in defense responses in the mammalia.

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