Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The evolution of vertebrate tetraspanins: gene loss, retention, and massive positive selection after whole genome duplications

Shengfeng Huang, Haozheng Tian, Zelin Chen, Ting Yu and Anlong Xu*

Author Affiliations

State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, Guangdong Key Laboratory of Pharmaceutical Functional Genes, College of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, 510275, China

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:306  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-306

Published: 13 October 2010



The vertebrate tetraspanin family has many features which make it suitable for preserving the imprint of ancient sequence evolution and amenable for phylogenomic analysis. So we believe that an in-depth analysis of the tetraspanin evolution not only provides more complete understanding of tetraspanin biology, but offers new insights into the influence of the two rounds of whole genome duplication (2R-WGD) at the origin of vertebrates.


A detailed phylogeny of vertebrate tetraspanins was constructed by using multiple lines of information, including sequence-based phylogenetics, key structural features, intron configuration and genomic synteny. In particular, a total of 38 modern tetraspanin ortholog lineages in bony vertebrates have been identified and subsequently classified into 17 ancestral lineages existing before 2R-WGD. Based on this phylogeny, we found that the ohnolog retention rate of tetraspanins after 2R-WGD was three times as the average (a rate similar to those of transcription factors and protein kinases). This high rate didn't increase the tetrapanin family size, but changed the family composition, possibly by displacing vertebrate-specific gene lineages with the lineages conserved across deuterostomes. We also found that the period from 2R-WGD to recent time is controlled by gene losses. Meanwhile, positive selection has been detected on 80% of the branches right after 2R-WGDs, which declines significantly on both magnitude and extensity on the following speciation branches. Notably, the loss of mammalian RDS2 is accompanied by strong positive selection on mammalian ROM1, possibly due to gene loss-induced compensatory evolution.


First, different from transcription factors and kinases, high duplicate retention rate after 2R-WGD didn't increase the tetraspanin family size but just reshaped the family composition. Second, the evolution of tetraspanins right after 2R-WGD had been impacted by a massive wave of gene loss and positive selection on coding sequences. Third, the lingering effect of 2R-WGD on tetraspanin gene loss and positive selection might last for 300-400 million years.