Journal Article

Origin and Diversification of a Salamander Sex Pheromone System

Sunita Janssenswillen, Wim Vandebergh, Dag Treer, Bert Willaert, Margo Maex, Ines Van Bocxlaer and Franky Bossuyt

in Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 32, issue 2, pages 472-480
Published in print February 2015 | ISSN: 0737-4038
Published online November 2014 | e-ISSN: 1537-1719 | DOI:
Origin and Diversification of a Salamander Sex Pheromone System

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  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology


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Sex pheromones form an important facet of reproductive strategies in many organisms throughout the Animal Kingdom. One of the oldest known sex pheromones in vertebrates are proteins of the Sodefrin Precursor-like Factor (SPF) system, which already had a courtship function in early salamanders. The subsequent evolution of salamanders is characterized by a diversification in courtship and reproduction, but little is known on how the SPF pheromone system diversified in relation to changing courtship strategies. Here, we combined transcriptomic, genomic, and phylogenetic analyses to investigate the evolution of the SPF pheromone system in nine salamandrid species with distinct courtship displays. First, we show that SPF originated from vertebrate three-finger proteins and diversified through multiple gene duplications in salamanders, while remaining a single copy in frogs. Next, we demonstrate that tail-fanning newts have retained a high phylogenetic diversity of SPFs, whereas loss of tail-fanning has been associated with a reduced importance or loss of SPF expression in the cloacal region. Finally, we show that the attractant decapeptide sodefrin is cleaved from larger SPF precursors that originated by a 62 bp insertion and consequent frameshift in an ancestral Cynops lineage. This led to the birth of a new decapeptide that rapidly evolved a pheromone function independently from uncleaved proteins.

Keywords: amphibians; evolution; SPF pheromone system

Journal Article.  5907 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology ; Molecular and Cell Biology

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