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PLoS One. 2016 Jan 6;11(1):e0146274. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146274. eCollection 2016.

Molecular Evolution of the Nuclear Factor (Erythroid-Derived 2)-Like 2 Gene Nrf2 in Old World Fruit Bats (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae).

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Laboratory of Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Shanghai Engineering Research Center of Molecular Therapeutics and New Drug Development, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China.
Kunming College of Life Science, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China.
Laboratory of Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Research, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.
Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.
College of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine, Shenyang Agricultural University, Shenyang, China.
Laboratory of Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Life Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.


Mammals developed antioxidant systems to defend against oxidative damage in their daily life. Enzymatic antioxidants and low molecular weight antioxidants (LMWAs) constitute major parts of the antioxidant systems. Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2, encoded by the Nrf2 gene) is a central transcriptional regulator, regulating transcription, of many antioxidant enzymes. Frugivorous bats eat large amounts of fruits that contain high levels of LMWAs such as vitamin C, thus, a reliance on LMWAs might greatly reduce the need for antioxidant enzymes in comparison to insectivorous bats. Therefore, it is possible that frugivorous bats have a reduced need for Nrf2 function due to their substantial intake of diet-antioxidants. To test whether the Nrf2 gene has undergone relaxed evolution in fruit-eating bats, we obtained Nrf2 sequences from 16 species of bats, including four Old World fruit bats (Pteropodidae) and one New World fruit bat (Phyllostomidae). Our molecular evolutionary analyses revealed changes in the selection pressure acting on Nrf2 gene and identified seven specific amino acid substitutions that occurred on the ancestral lineage leading to Old World fruit bats. Biochemical experiments were conducted to examine Nrf2 in Old World fruit bats and showed that the amount of catalase, which is regulated by Nrf2, was significantly lower in the brain, heart and liver of Old World fruit bats despite higher levels of Nrf2 protein in Old World fruit bats. Computational predictions suggest that three of these seven amino acid replacements might be deleterious to Nrf2 function. Therefore, the results suggest that Nrf2 gene might have experienced relaxed constraint in Old World fruit bats, however, we cannot rule out the possibility of positive selection. Our study provides the first data on the molecular adaptation of Nrf2 gene in frugivorous bats in compensation to the increased levels of LWMAs from their fruit-diet.

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