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Genetics. 2002 Apr;160(4):1469-79.

Polymorphism and selection at the SerH immobilization antigen locus in natural populations of Tetrahymena thermophila.

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Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio 44115, USA.


The SerH locus of Tetrahymena thermophila is one of several paralogous loci with genes encoding variants of the major cell surface protein known as the immobilization antigen (i-ag). The locus is highly polymorphic, raising questions concerning functional equivalency and selective forces acting on its multiple alleles. Here, we compare the sequences and expression of SerH1, SerH3, SerH4, SerH5, and SerH6. The precursor i-ags are highly similar. They are rich in alanine, serine, threonine, and cysteine and they share nearly identical ER translocation and GPI addition signals. The locations of the 39 cysteines are highly conserved, particularly in the 3.5 central, imperfect tandem repeats in which 8 periodic cysteines punctuate alternating short and long stretches of amino acids. Hydrophobicity patterns are also conserved. Nevertheless, amino acid sequence identity is low, ranging from 60.7 to 82.9%. At the nucleotide level, from 9.7 to 26.7% of nucleotide sites are polymorphic in pairwise comparisons. Expression of each allele is regulated by temperature-sensitive mRNA stability. H mRNAs are stable at <36 degrees but are unstable at >36 degrees. The H5 mRNA, which is less affected by temperature, has a different arrangement of the putative mRNA destabilization motif AUUUA. Statistical analysis of SerH genes indicates that the multiple alleles are neutral. Significantly low ratios of the rates of nonsynonymous to synonymous amino acid substitutions suggest that the multiple alleles are subject to purifying (negative) selection enforcing constraints on structure.

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