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Open Access Research article

Structural and functional implications of positive selection at the primate angiogenin gene

Daniel S Osorio12, Agostinho Antunes13 and Maria J Ramos1*

Author Affiliations

1 REQUIMTE, Departamento de Química, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre, 687, 4169-007 Porto, Portugal

2 INSERM UMR S 787-Groupe Myologie, Faculté de Médecine – Pitié-Salpétrière, UPMC Paris VI, 105 bd. de l'Hôpital, 75634, Paris Cedex 13, France

3 CIMAR, Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental, Universidade do Porto, Rua dos Bragas, 177, 4050-123 Porto, Portugal

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:167  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-167

Published: 20 September 2007



Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, is a primordial process in development and its dysregulation has a central role in the pathogenesis of many diseases. Angiogenin (ANG), a peculiar member of the RNase A superfamily, is a potent inducer of angiogenesis involved in many different types of cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and also with a possible role in the innate immune defense. The evolutionary path of this family has been a highly dynamic one, where positive selection has played a strong role. In this work we used a combined gene and protein level approach to determine the main sites under diversifying selection on the primate ANG gene and analyze its structural and functional implications.


We obtained evidence for positive selection in the primate ANG gene. Site specific analysis pointed out 15 sites under positive selection, most of which also exhibited drastic changes in amino acid properties. The mapping of these sites in the ANG 3D-structure described five clusters, four of which were located in functional regions: two in the active site region, one in the nucleolar location signal and one in the cell-binding site. Eight of the 15 sites under selection in the primate ANG gene were highly or moderately conserved in the RNase A family, suggesting a directed event and not a simple consequence of local structural or functional permissiveness. Moreover, 11 sites were exposed to the surface of the protein indicating that they may influence the interactions performed by ANG.


Using a maximum likelihood gene level analysis we identified 15 sites under positive selection in the primate ANG genes, that were further corroborated through a protein level analysis of radical changes in amino acid properties. These sites mapped onto the main functional regions of the ANG protein. The fact that evidence for positive selection is present in all ANG regions required for angiogenesis may be a good indication that angiogenesis is the process under selection. However, other possibilities to be considered arise from the possible involvement of ANG in innate immunity and the potential influence or co-evolution with its interacting proteins and ligands.