, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 282-295

On the evolution of protamines in bony Fish: Alternatives to the “Retroviral horizontal transmission” hypothesis

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Fish protamines are highly specialized molecules which are responsible for chromatin condensation during the last stages of spermatogenesis (spermiogenesis). However, not all fish contain protamines in their sperm nuclei; rather, there seems to be a random distribution of protamines within this group. The origin of this sporadic presence of protamines in the sperm and its significance have not yet been precisely determined. In this paper we have conducted an exhaustive survey of the literature available on the different types of nuclear protein composition of the sperm of teleost fish in order to try to correlate these data with what is presently known about the taxonomy of this group. The results of this analysis have allowed us to make the following observations. The divergence between protamines and histones has occurred several times during the evolution of the bony fish. However, the relative frequency of this divergence is almost negligible during the differentiation of genera and species (intrafamily variation) and is very small during the differentiation of families (interfamily variation). Nevertheless, the divergence is very noticeable among the different orders. It is therefore possible to conclude from all this that the sporadic distribution of protamines in bony fish is not a random event as initially believed. Furthermore, such a heterogeneous distribution of protamines cannot be easily accounted for by a mechanism of horizontal retroviral transmission through repeated and independent acquisition of a prot amine gene as has been recently proposed (Jankowski, Stater, Dixon (1986) J Mol Evol 23:1–10). Rather, it could possibly be explained by a repeated and independent loss of the expression of the protamine gene (or loss of the gene itself) which mainly occurred during the diversification of the orders of this group.

Correspondence to: J. Ausio