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Open Access Research article

Gene structure, transcripts and calciotropic effects of the PTH family of peptides in Xenopus and chicken

Pedro LC Pinheiro, João CR Cardoso, Ana S Gomes, Juan Fuentes, Deborah M Power and Adelino VM Canário*

  • * Corresponding author: Adelino VM Canário acanario@ualg.pt

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

Centre of Marine Sciences, Comparative Molecular Endocrinology, Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:373  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-373

Published: 1 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Parathyroid hormone (PTH) and PTH-related peptide (PTHrP) belong to a family of endocrine factors that share a highly conserved N-terminal region (amino acids 1-34) and play key roles in calcium homeostasis, bone formation and skeletal development. Recently, PTH-like peptide (PTH-L) was identified in teleost fish raising questions about the evolution of these proteins. Although PTH and PTHrP have been intensively studied in mammals their function in other vertebrates is poorly documented. Amphibians and birds occupy unique phylogenetic positions, the former at the transition of aquatic to terrestrial life and the latter at the transition to homeothermy. Moreover, both organisms have characteristics indicative of a complex system in calcium regulation. This study investigated PTH family evolution in vertebrates with special emphasis on Xenopus and chicken.

Results

The PTH-L gene is present throughout the vertebrates with the exception of placental mammals. Gene structure of PTH and PTH-L seems to be conserved in vertebrates while PTHrP gene structure is divergent and has acquired new exons and alternative promoters. Splice variants of PTHrP and PTH-L are common in Xenopus and chicken and transcripts of the former have a widespread tissue distribution, although PTH-L is more restricted. PTH is widely expressed in fish tissue but from Xenopus to mammals becomes largely restricted to the parathyroid gland. The N-terminal (1-34) region of PTH, PTHrP and PTH-L in Xenopus and chicken share high sequence conservation and the capacity to modify calcium fluxes across epithelia suggesting a conserved role in calcium metabolism possibly via similar receptors.

Conclusions

The parathyroid hormone family contains 3 principal members, PTH, PTHrP and the recently identified PTH-L. In teleosts there are 5 genes which encode PTHrP (2), PTH (2) and PTH-L and in tetrapods there are 3 genes (PTHrP, PTH and PTH-L), the exception is placental mammals which have 2 genes and lack PTH-L. It is hypothesized that genes of the PTH family appeared at approximately the same time during the vertebrate radiation and evolved via gene duplication/deletion events. PTH-L was lost from the genome of eutherian mammals and PTH, which has a paracrine distribution in lower vertebrates, became the product of a specific endocrine tissue in Amphibia, the parathyroid gland. The PTHrP gene organisation diverged and became more complex in vertebrates and retained its widespread tissue distribution which is congruent with its paracrine nature.