, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 25-35
Date: 25 Sep 2012

Identification of natural killer cell receptor genes in the genome of the marsupial Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

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Within the mammalian immune system, natural killer (NK) cells contribute to the first line of defence against infectious agents and tumours. Their activity is regulated, in part, by cell surface NK cell receptors. NK receptors can be divided into two unrelated, but functionally analogous superfamilies based on the structure of their extracellular ligand-binding domains. Receptors belonging to the C-type lectin superfamily are predominantly encoded in the natural killer complex (NKC), while receptors belonging to the immunoglobulin superfamily are predominantly encoded in the leukocyte receptor complex (LRC). Natural killer cell receptors are emerging as a rapidly evolving gene family which can display significant intra- and interspecific variation. To date, most studies have focused on eutherian mammals, with significantly less known about the evolution of these receptors in marsupials. Here, we describe the identification of 43 immunoglobulin domain-containing LRC genes in the genome of the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the largest remaining marsupial carnivore and only the second marsupial species to be studied. We also identify orthologs of NKC genes KLRK1, CD69, CLEC4E, CLEC1B, CLEC1A and an ortholog of an opossum NKC receptor. Characterisation of these regions in a second, distantly related marsupial provides new insights into the dynamic evolutionary histories of these receptors in mammals. Understanding the functional role of these genes is also important for the development of therapeutic agents against Devil Facial Tumour Disease, a contagious cancer that threatens the Tasmanian devil with extinction.