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Open Access Research article

The promastigote surface antigen gene family of the Leishmania parasite: differential evolution by positive selection and recombination

Alain Devault12* and Anne-Laure Bañuls1

Author Affiliations

1 Génétique et Evolution des Maladies Infectieuses, IRD/CNRS (UMR 2724), Montpellier F-34394, France

2 CRBM-CNRS (UMR5237), Montpellier F-34293, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:292  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-292

Published: 24 October 2008

Abstract

Background

PSA (promastigote surface antigen) is one of the major classes of membrane proteins present at the surface of the parasitic protozoan Leishmania. While it harbours leucine rich repeats, which are suggestive of its involvement in parasite-to-host physical interactions, its exact role is largely unknown. Furthermore, the extent of diversity of this gene family, both in copy number and sequence has not been established.

Results

From the newly available complete genome sequences of L. major, L. infantum and L. braziliensis, we have established the complete list of PSA genes, based on the conservation of specific domain architecture. The latter includes an array of leucine rich repeats of unique signature flanked by conserved cysteine-rich domains. All PSA genes code either for secreted or membrane-anchored surface proteins. Besides the few previously identified PSA genes, which are shown here to be part of a relatively large subclass of PSA genes located on chromosome 12, this study identifies seven other PSA subtypes. The latter, whose genes lie on chromosomes 5, 9, 21 and 31 in all three species, form single gene (two genes in one instance) subfamilies, which phylogenetically cluster as highly related orthologs. On the other hand, genes found on chromosome 12 generally show high diversification, as reflected in greater sequence divergence between species, and in an extended set of divergent paralogs. Moreover, we show that the latter genes are submitted to strong positive selection. We also provide evidence that evolution of these genes is driven by intra- and intergenic recombination, thereby modulating the number of LRRs in protein and generating chimeric genes.

Conclusion

PSA is a Leishmania family of membrane-bound or secreted proteins, whose main signature consists in a specific LRR sequence. All PSA genes found in the genomes of three sequenced Leishmania species unambiguously distribute into eight subfamilies of orthologs. Seven of these are evolving relatively slowly and could correspond to basic functions related to parasite/host interactions. On the opposite, the other PSA gene class, which include all so far experimentally studied PSA genes, could be involved in more specialised adaptative functions.