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The conserved Phe GH5 of importance for hemoglobin intersubunit contact is mutated in gadoid fish

Øivind Andersen12*, Maria Cristina De Rosa3, Prakash Yadav2, Davide Pirolli4, Jorge MO Fernandes5, Paul R Berg6, Sissel Jentoft6 and Carl Andrè7

Author Affiliations

1 Nofima, P.O. Box 5010, Oslo N-1430 Ås, Norway

2 Department of Animal and Aquaculture Sciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 5003, Oslo N-1430 Ås, Norway

3 Institute of Chemistry of Molecular Recognition - CNR and Institute of Biochemistry and Clinical Biochemistry, Catholic University of Rome, Rome 00168, Italy

4 Institute of Biochemistry and Clinical Biochemistry, Catholic University of Rome, Rome 00168, Italy

5 Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, University of Nordland, P.O. Box 1490, Bodø 8049, Norway

6 Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biology, University of Oslo, Blindern, P.O. Box 1066, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

7 Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg Tjärnö, Strömstad SE-452 96, Sweden

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-54

Published: 21 March 2014



Functionality of the tetrameric hemoglobin molecule seems to be determined by a few amino acids located in key positions. Oxygen binding encompasses structural changes at the interfaces between the α1β2 and α2β1 dimers, but also subunit interactions are important for the oxygen binding affinity and stability. The latter packing contacts include the conserved Arg B12 interacting with Phe GH5, which is replaced by Leu and Tyr in the αA and αD chains, respectively, of birds and reptiles.


Searching all known hemoglobins from a variety of gnathostome species (jawed vertebrates) revealed the almost invariant Arg B12 coded by the AGG triplet positioned at an exon-intron boundary. Rare substitutions of Arg B12 in the gnathostome β globins were found in pig, tree shrew and scaled reptiles. Phe GH5 is also highly conserved in the β globins, except for the Leu replacement in the β1 globin of five marine gadoid species, gilthead seabream and the Comoran coelacanth, while Cys and Ile were found in burbot and yellow croaker, respectively. Atlantic cod β1 globin showed a Leu/Met polymorphism at position GH5 dominated by the Met variant in northwest-Atlantic populations that was rarely found in northeast-Atlantic cod. Site-specific analyses identified six consensus codons under positive selection, including 122β(GH5), indicating that the amino acid changes identified at this position may offer an adaptive advantage. In fact, computational mutation analysis showed that the replacement of Phe GH5 with Leu or Cys decreased the number of van der Waals contacts essentially in the deoxy form that probably causes a slight increase in the oxygen binding affinity.


The almost invariant Arg B12 and the AGG codon seem to be important for the packing contacts and pre-mRNA processing, respectively, but the rare mutations identified might be beneficial. The Leu122β1(GH5)Met and Met55β1(D6)Val polymorphisms in Atlantic cod hemoglobin modify the intradimer contacts B12-GH5 and H2-D6, while amino acid replacements at these positions in avian hemoglobin seem to be evolutionary adaptive in air-breathing vertebrates. The results support the theory that adaptive changes in hemoglobin functions are caused by a few substitutions at key positions.

Atlantic cod; Hemoglobin; Polymorphism; Coelacanth; Spotted gar; Positive selection