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Open Access Research article

Evolution and diversity of secretome genes in the apicomplexan parasite Theileria annulata

William Weir1*, Tülin Karagenç2, Margaret Baird1, Andy Tait1 and Brian R Shiels1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Veterinary Infection and Immunity, University of Glasgow, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Institute of Comparative Medicine, Bearsden Road, Glasgow, Scotland, G61 1QH, UK

2 Department of Parasitology, Adnan Menderes University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Batı Kampus, Işıklı, Aydın, Turkey

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-42

Published: 18 January 2010

Abstract

Background

Little is known about how apicomplexan parasites have evolved to infect different host species and cell types. Theileria annulata and Theileria parva invade and transform bovine leukocytes but each species favours a different host cell lineage. Parasite-encoded proteins secreted from the intracellular macroschizont stage within the leukocyte represent a critical interface between host and pathogen systems. Genome sequencing has revealed that several Theileria-specific gene families encoding secreted proteins are positively selected at the inter-species level, indicating diversification between the species. We extend this analysis to the intra-species level, focusing on allelic diversity of two major secretome families. These families represent a well-characterised group of genes implicated in control of the host cell phenotype and a gene family of unknown function. To gain further insight into their evolution and function, this study investigates whether representative genes of these two families are diversifying or constrained within the T. annulata population.

Results

Strong evidence is provided that the sub-telomerically encoded SVSP family and the host-nucleus targeted TashAT family have evolved under contrasting pressures within natural T. annulata populations. SVSP genes were found to possess atypical codon usage and be evolving neutrally, with high levels of nucleotide substitutions and multiple indels. No evidence of geographical sub-structuring of allelic sequences was found. In contrast, TashAT family genes, implicated in control of host cell gene expression, are strongly conserved at the protein level and geographically sub-structured allelic sequences were identified among Tunisian and Turkish isolates. Although different copy numbers of DNA binding motifs were identified in alleles of TashAT proteins, motif periodicity was strongly maintained, implying conserved functional activity of these sites.

Conclusions

This analysis provides evidence that two distinct secretome genes families have evolved under contrasting selective pressures. The data supports current hypotheses regarding the biological role of TashAT family proteins in the management of host cell phenotype that may have evolved to allow adaptation of T. annulata to a specific host cell lineage. We provide new evidence of extensive allelic diversity in representative members of the enigmatic SVSP gene family, which supports a putative role for the encoded products in subversion of the host immune response.