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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evidence of positive selection at codon sites localized in extracellular domains of mammalian CC motif chemokine receptor proteins

Kelsey J Metzger12* and Michael A Thomas1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, 921 South 8th Avenue, Campus Box 8007, Pocatello, ID 83209, USA

2 Center for Learning Innovation, University of Minnesota Rochester, 300 University Square, 111 South Broadway, Rochester, MN 55904, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-139

Published: 10 May 2010



CC chemokine receptor proteins (CCR1 through CCR10) are seven-transmembrane G-protein coupled receptors whose signaling pathways are known for their important roles coordinating immune system responses through targeted trafficking of white blood cells. In addition, some of these receptors have been identified as fusion proteins for viral pathogens: for example, HIV-1 strains utilize CCR5, CCR2 and CCR3 proteins to obtain cellular entry in humans. The extracellular domains of these receptor proteins are involved in ligand-binding specificity as well as pathogen recognition interactions.

In mammals, the majority of chemokine receptor genes are clustered together; in humans, seven of the ten genes are clustered in the 3p21-24 chromosome region. Gene conversion events, or exchange of DNA sequence between genes, have been reported in chemokine receptor paralogs in various mammalian lineages, especially between the cytogenetically closely located pairs CCR2/5 and CCR1/3. Datasets of mammalian orthologs for each gene were analyzed separately to minimize the potential confounding impact of analyzing highly similar sequences resulting from gene conversion events.

Molecular evolution approaches and the software package Phylogenetic Analyses by Maximum Likelihood (PAML) were utilized to investigate the signature of selection that has acted on the mammalian CC chemokine receptor (CCR) gene family. The results of neutral vs. adaptive evolution (positive selection) hypothesis testing using Site Models are reported. In general, positive selection is defined by a ratio of nonsynonymous/synonymous nucleotide changes (dN/dS, or ω) >1.


Of the ten mammalian CC motif chemokine receptor sequence datasets analyzed, only CCR2 and CCR3 contain amino acid codon sites that exhibit evidence of positive selection using site based hypothesis testing in PAML. Nineteen of the twenty codon sites putatively indentified as likely to be under positive selection code for amino acid residues located in extracellular domains of the receptor protein products.


These results suggest that amino acid residues present in intracellular and membrane-bound domains are more selectively constrained for functional signal transduction and homo- or heterodimerization, whereas amino acid residues in extracellular domains of these receptor proteins evolve more quickly, perhaps due to heightened selective pressure resulting from ligand-binding and pathogen interactions of extracellular domains.