Open Access Open Badges Research article

The evolutionary history of the SAL1 gene family in eutherian mammals

Camille Meslin1234, Fanny Brimau5, Patricia Nagnan-Le Meillour5, Isabelle Callebaut6, Géraldine Pascal1234 and Philippe Monget1234*

Author Affiliations

1 UMR85 Physiologie de la Reproduction et des Comportements, INRA, Nouzilly, F-37380, France

2 UMR6175, CNRS, Nouzilly, F-37380, France

3 Université François Rabelais de Tours, Tours, F-37041, France

4 Haras Nationaux, Nouzilly, F-37380, France

5 Unité de Glycobiologie Structurale et Fonctionnelle, INRA, UMR 8576 CNRS/Université Lille1, Villeneuve d'Ascq Cedex, F-59655, France

6 IMPMC, UMR7590, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, 75005, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:148  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-148

Published: 28 May 2011



SAL1 (salivary lipocalin) is a member of the OBP (Odorant Binding Protein) family and is involved in chemical sexual communication in pig. SAL1 and its relatives may be involved in pheromone and olfactory receptor binding and in pre-mating behaviour. The evolutionary history and the selective pressures acting on SAL1 and its orthologous genes have not yet been exhaustively described. The aim of the present work was to study the evolution of these genes, to elucidate the role of selective pressures in their evolution and the consequences for their functions.


Here, we present the evolutionary history of SAL1 gene and its orthologous genes in mammals. We found that (1) SAL1 and its related genes arose in eutherian mammals with lineage-specific duplications in rodents, horse and cow and are lost in human, mouse lemur, bushbaby and orangutan, (2) the evolution of duplicated genes of horse, rat, mouse and guinea pig is driven by concerted evolution with extensive gene conversion events in mouse and guinea pig and by positive selection mainly acting on paralogous genes in horse and guinea pig, (3) positive selection was detected for amino acids involved in pheromone binding and amino acids putatively involved in olfactory receptor binding, (4) positive selection was also found for lineage, indicating a species-specific strategy for amino acid selection.


This work provides new insights into the evolutionary history of SAL1 and its orthologs. On one hand, some genes are subject to concerted evolution and to an increase in dosage, suggesting the need for homogeneity of sequence and function in certain species. On the other hand, positive selection plays a role in the diversification of the functions of the family and in lineage, suggesting adaptive evolution, with possible consequences for speciation and for the reinforcement of prezygotic barriers.