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Open Access Research article

Recent evolution of the NF-κB and inflammasome regulating protein POP2 in primates

Maninjay K Atianand1, Travis Fuchs2 and Jonathan A Harton1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York, 12208, USA

2 Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany, Albany, New York, 12222, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-56

Published: 1 March 2011



Pyrin-only protein 2 (POP2) is a small human protein comprised solely of a pyrin domain that inhibits NF-κB p65/RelA and blocks the formation of functional IL-1β processing inflammasomes. Pyrin proteins are abundant in mammals and several, like POP2, have been linked to activation or regulation of inflammatory processes. Because POP2 knockout mice would help probe the biological role of inflammatory regulation, we thus considered whether POP2 is common in the mammalian lineage.


BLAST searches revealed that POP2 is absent from the available genomes of not only mice and rats, but those of other domestic mammals and New World monkeys as well. POP2 is however present in the genome of the primate species most closely related to humans including Pan troglodytes (chimpanzees), Macaca mulatta (rhesus macaques) and others. Interestingly, chimpanzee POP2 is identical to human POP2 (huPOP2) at both the DNA and protein level. Macaque POP2 (mqPOP2), although highly conserved is not identical to the human sequence; however, both functions of the human protein are retained. Further, POP2 appears to have arisen in the mammalian genome relatively recently (~25 mya) and likely derived from retrogene insertion of NLRP2.


Our findings support the hypothesis that the NLR loci of mammals, encoding proteins involved in innate and adaptive immunity as well as mammalian development, have been subject to recent and strong selective pressures. Since POP2 is capable of regulating signaling events and processes linked to innate immunity and inflammation, its presence in the genomes of hominids and Old World primates further suggests that additional regulation of these signals is important in these species.