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PLoS One. 2010 Feb 23;5(2):e9369. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009369.

Phylogenetic analysis of the MS4A and TMEM176 gene families.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.



The MS4A gene family in humans includes CD20 (MS4A1), FcRbeta (MS4A2), Htm4 (MS4A3), and at least 13 other syntenic genes encoding membrane proteins, most having characteristic tetraspanning topology. Expression of MS4A genes is variable in tissues throughout the body; however, several are limited to cells in the hematopoietic system where they have known roles in immune cell functions. Genes in the small TMEM176 group share significant sequence similarity with MS4A genes and there is evidence of immune function of at least one of the encoded proteins. In this study, we examined the evolutionary history of the MS4A/TMEM176 families as well as tissue expression of the phylogenetically earliest members, in order to investigate their possible origins in immune cells.


Orthologs of human MS4A genes were found only in mammals; however, MS4A gene homologs were found in most jawed vertebrates. TMEM176 genes were found only in mammals and bony fish. Several unusual MS4A genes having 2 or more tandem MS4A sequences were identified in the chicken (Gallus gallus) and early mammals (opossum, Monodelphis domestica and platypus, Ornithorhyncus anatinus). A large number of highly conserved MS4A and TMEM176 genes was found in zebrafish (Danio rerio). The most primitive organism identified to have MS4A genes was spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthus). Tissue expression of MS4A genes in S. acanthias and D. rerio showed no evidence of expression restricted to the hematopoietic system.


Our findings suggest that MS4A genes first appeared in cartilaginous fish with expression outside of the immune system, and have since diversified in many species into their modern forms with expression and function in both immune and nonimmune cells.

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