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Integr Comp Biol. 2010 Jul;50(1):86-97. doi: 10.1093/icb/icq010. Epub 2010 Apr 1.

Genomics reveal ancient forms of stanniocalcin in amphioxus and tunicate.

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Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3N5, Canada.


Stanniocalcin (STC) is present throughout vertebrates, including humans, but a structure for STC has not been identified in animals that evolved before bony fish. The origin of this pleiotropic hormone known to regulate calcium is not clear. In the present study, we have cloned three stanniocalcins from two invertebrates, the tunicate Ciona intestinalis and the amphioxus Branchiostoma floridae. Both species are protochordates with the tunicates as the closest living relatives to vertebrates. Amphioxus are basal to both tunicates and vertebrates. The genes and predicted proteins of tunicate and amphioxus share several key structural features found in all previously described homologs. Both the invertebrate and vertebrate genes have four conserved exons. The predicted length of the single pro-STC in Ciona is 237 amino acids and the two pro-hormones in amphioxus are 207 and 210 residues, which is shorter than human pro-STCs at 247 and 302 residues due to expansion of the C-terminal region in vertebrate forms. The conserved pattern of 10 cysteines in all chordate STCs is crucial for identification as amphioxus and tunicate amino acids are only 14-23% identical with human STC1 and STC2. The 11th cysteine, which is the cysteine shown to form a homodimer in vertebrates, is present only in amphioxus STCa, but not in amphioxus STCb or tunicate STC, suggesting the latter two are monomers. The expression of stanniocalcin in Ciona is widespread as shown by RT-PCR and by quantitative PCR. The latter method shows that the highest amount of STC mRNA is in the heart with lower amounts in the neural complex, branchial basket, and endostyle. A widespread distribution is present also in mammals and fish for both STC1 and STC2. Stanniocalcin is a presumptive regulator of calcium in both Ciona and amphioxus, although the structure of a STC receptor remains to be identified in any organism. Our data suggest that amphioxus STCa is most similar to the common ancestor of vertebrate STCs because it has an 11th cysteine necessary for dimerization, an N-glycosylation motif, although not the canonical one in vertebrate STCs, and similar gene organization. Tunicate and amphioxus STCs are more similar in structure to vertebrate STC1 than to vertebrate STC2. The unique features of STC2, including 14 instead of 11 cysteines and a cluster of histidines in the C-terminal region, appear to be found exclusively in vertebrates.

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