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Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2006 Nov;154(1-2):165-84. Epub 2006 Feb 14.

Evolution of vertebrate haemoglobins: Histidine side chains, specific buffer value and Bohr effect.

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School of Biological Sciences, The University of Liverpool, Biosciences Building, Crown Street, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK.


This review highlights the use of analytical tools, recently developed in the comparative method of evolutionary biology, for the study of haemoglobin (Hb) adaptation. It focuses on the functional consequences of a previously largely ignored structural feature of Hb, namely the degree and positional specificity of histidine (His) substitution in Hb chains. The importance of His side chains for hydrogen ion buffering, blood CO(2) transport capacity and the molecular mechanism of the Bohr effect in vertebrate Hbs is discussed. Using phylogenetically independent contrasts, a significant correlation between the specific buffer value of Hb and the number of predicted physiological buffer groups from Hb sequence data is shown. In a new result, the evolution of the number of physiological buffer groups in 77 vertebrate species is reconstructed on a phylogenetic tree. The analysis predicts that teleost fishes, passeriform birds and some snakes have independently evolved a much-reduced specific buffer value of Hb, possibly for enhancing the efficiency of an acid load to change oxygen affinity via the Bohr effect. This analysis demonstrates how in comparative physiology analysis of genetic databases in an evolutionary framework can identify candidate species for further experimental in vitro and whole animal studies.

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