Journal Article

Evolution of Snake Venom Disintegrins by Positive Darwinian Selection

Paula Juárez, Iñaki Comas, Fernando González-Candelas and Juan J. Calvete

in Molecular Biology and Evolution

Published on behalf of Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 25, issue 11, pages 2391-2407
Published in print November 2008 | ISSN: 0737-4038
Published online August 2008 | e-ISSN: 1537-1719 | DOI:
Evolution of Snake Venom Disintegrins by Positive Darwinian Selection

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  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology


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PII-disintegrins, cysteine-rich polypeptides broadly distributed in the venoms of geographically diverse species of vipers and rattlesnakes, antagonize the adhesive functions of β1 and β3 integrin receptors. PII-disintegrins evolved in Viperidae by neofunctionalization of disintegrin-like domains of duplicated PIII-snake venom hemorrhagic metalloproteinase (SVMP) genes recruited into the venom proteome before the radiation of the advanced snakes. Minimization of the gene (loss of introns and coding regions) and the protein structures (successive loss of disulfide bonds) underpins the postduplication divergence of disintegrins. However, little is known about the underlying genetic mechanisms that have generated the structural and functional diversity among disintegrins. Phylogenetic inference and maximum likelihood–based codon substitution approaches were used to analyze the evolution of the disintegrin family. The topology of the phylogenetic tree does not parallel that of the species tree. This incongruence is consistent with that expected for a multigene family undergoing a birth-and-death process in which the appearance and disappearance of loci are being driven by selection. Cysteine and buried residues appear to be under strong purifying selection due to their role in maintaining the active conformation of disintegrins. Divergence of disintegrins is strongly influenced by positive Darwinian selection causing accelerated rate of substitution in a substantial proportion of surface-exposed disintegrin residues. Global and lineage-specific sites evolving under diversifying selection were identified. Several sites are located within the integrin-binding loop and the C-terminal tail, two regions that form a conformational functional epitope. Arginine-glycine-aspartic acid (RGD) was inferred to represent the ancestral integrin-recognition motif, which emerged from the subgroup of PIII-SVMPs bearing the RDECD sequence. The most parsimonious nucleotide substitution model required for the emergence of all known disintegrin's integrin inhibitory motifs from an ancestral RGD sequence involves a minimum of three mutations. The adaptive advantage of the emergence of motifs targeting β1 integrins and the role of positively selected sites located within nonfunctional disintegrin regions appear to be difficult to rationalize in the context of a predator–prey arms race. Perhaps, this represents a consequence of the neofunctionalization potential of the disintegrin domain, a feature that may underlie its recruitment into the venom proteome followed by its successful transformation into a toxin.

Keywords: molecular evolution; snake venom disintegrins; adaptive evolution; positive Darwinian selection; phylogeny

Journal Article.  9392 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology ; Molecular and Cell Biology

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