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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Oct;29(10):3205-14. Epub 2012 May 15.

A model for the evolution of the mammalian t-cell receptor α/δ and μ loci based on evidence from the duckbill Platypus.

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Department of Biology, Center for Evolutionary & Theoretical Immunology, University of New Mexico.


The specific recognition of antigen by T cells is critical to the generation of adaptive immune responses in vertebrates. T cells recognize antigen using a somatically diversified T-cell receptor (TCR). All jawed vertebrates use four TCR chains called α, β, γ, and δ, which are expressed as either a αβ or γδ heterodimer. Nonplacental mammals (monotremes and marsupials) are unusual in that their genomes encode a fifth TCR chain, called TCRµ, whose function is not known but is also somatically diversified like the conventional chains. The origins of TCRµ are also unclear, although it appears distantly related to TCRδ. Recent analysis of avian and amphibian genomes has provided insight into a model for understanding the evolution of the TCRδ genes in tetrapods that was not evident from humans, mice, or other commonly studied placental (eutherian) mammals. An analysis of the genes encoding the TCRδ chains in the duckbill platypus revealed the presence of a highly divergent variable (V) gene, indistinguishable from immunoglobulin heavy (IgH) chain V genes (VH) and related to V genes used in TCRµ. They are expressed as part of TCRδ repertoire (VHδ) and similar to what has been found in frogs and birds. This, however, is the first time a VHδ has been found in a mammal and provides a critical link in reconstructing the evolutionary history of TCRµ. The current structure of TCRδ and TCRµ genes in tetrapods suggests ancient and possibly recurring translocations of gene segments between the IgH and TCRδ genes, as well as translocations of TCRδ genes out of the TCRα/δ locus early in mammals, creating the TCRµ locus.

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