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Chem Biol Interact. 2010 Sep 6;187(1-3):27-33. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2010.03.043. Epub 2010 Mar 30.

Evolution of cholinesterases in the animal kingdom.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, AL 35254, USA.


Cholinesterases emerged from a family of enzymes and proteins with adhesion properties. This family is absent in plants and expanded in multicellular animals. True cholinesterases appeared in triploblastic animals together with the cholinergic system. Lineage specific duplications resulted in two acetylcholinesterases in most hexapods and in up to four genes in nematodes. In vertebrates the duplication leading to acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) is now considered to be an ancient event which occurred before the split of osteichthyes. The product of one or the other of the paralogues is responsible for the physiological hydrolysis of acetylcholine, depending on the species lineage and tissue considered. The BChE gene seems to have been lost in some fish lineages. The complete genome of amphioxus (Branchiostoma floridae: cephalochordate) contains a large number of duplicated genes or pseudogenes of cholinesterases. Sequence comparison and tree constructions raise the question of considering the atypical ChE studied in this organism as a representative of ancient BChE. Thus nematodes, arthropods, annelids, molluscs, and vertebrates typically possess two paralogous genes coding for cholinesterases. The origin of the duplication(s) is discussed. The mode of attachment through alternative C-terminal coding exons seems to have evolved independently from the catalytic part of the gene.

Copyright (c) 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

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