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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular evolution of the keratin associated protein gene family in mammals, role in the evolution of mammalian hair

Dong-Dong Wu13, David M Irwin45 and Ya-Ping Zhang12*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, PR China

2 Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-resource, Yunnan University, Kunming 650091, PR China

3 Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, PR China

4 Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

5 Banting and Best Diabetes Centre, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:241  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-241

Published: 23 August 2008

Abstract

Background

Hair is unique to mammals. Keratin associated proteins (KRTAPs), which contain two major groups: high/ultrahigh cysteine and high glycine-tyrosine, are one of the major components of hair and play essential roles in the formation of rigid and resistant hair shafts.

Results

The KRTAP family was identified as being unique to mammals, and near-complete KRTAP gene repertoires for eight mammalian genomes were characterized in this study. An expanded KRTAP gene repertoire was found in rodents. Surprisingly, humans have a similar number of genes as other primates despite the relative hairlessness of humans. We identified several new subfamilies not previously reported in the high/ultrahigh cysteine KRTAP genes. Genes in many subfamilies of the high/ultrahigh cysteine KRTAP genes have evolved by concerted evolution with frequent gene conversion events, yielding a higher GC base content for these gene sequences. In contrast, the high glycine-tyrosine KRTAP genes have evolved more dynamically, with fewer gene conversion events and thus have a lower GC base content, possibly due to positive selection.

Conclusion

Most of the subfamilies emerged early in the evolution of mammals, thus we propose that the mammalian ancestor should have a diverse KRTAP gene repertoire. We propose that hair content characteristics have evolved and diverged rapidly among mammals because of rapid divergent evolution of KRTAPs between species. In contrast, subfamilies of KRTAP genes have been homogenized within each species due to concerted evolution.