Open Access Open Badges Research article

Gene conversion limits divergence of mammalian TLR1 and TLR6

Egbert KO Kruithof*, Nathalie Satta, Jia Wei Liu, Sylvie Dunoyer-Geindre and Richard J Fish

Author Affiliations

Service of Angiology and Hemostasis, University Hospital of Geneva, CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:148  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-148

Published: 29 August 2007



Toll-like receptors (TLR) recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns and are important mediators of the innate immune system. TLR1 and TLR6 are paralogs and located in tandem on the same chromosome in mammals. They form heterodimers with TLR2 and bind lipopeptide components of gram-positive and gram-negative bacterial cell walls. To identify conserved stretches in TLR1 and TLR6, that may be important for their function, we compared their protein sequences in nine mammalian species(Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes, Macaca mulatta, Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus; Erinaceus europaeus, Bos Taurus, Sus scrofa and Canis familiaris).


The N-terminal sequences of the orthologous proteins showed greater similarity than corresponding paralog sequences. However, we identified a region of 300 amino acids towards the C-terminus of TLR1 and TLR6, where paralogs had a greater degree of sequence identity than orthologs. Preservation of DNA sequence identity of paralogs in this region was observed in all nine mammalian species investigated, and is due to independent gene conversion events. The regions having undergone gene conversion in each species are almost identical and encode the leucine-rich repeat motifs 16 to 19, the C-terminal cap motif, the transmembrane domain and most of the intracellular Toll/interleukin-1 receptor (TIR) domain.


Our results show that, for a specific conserved region, divergence of TLR1 and TLR6 is limited by gene conversion, most likely because of the need for co-evolution with multiple intracellular and extracellular binding partners. Thus, gene conversion provides a mechanism for limiting the divergence of functional regions of protein paralogs, while allowing other domains to evolve diversified functions.