Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 54, Issue 5, pp 671–679

C6-Like and C3-Like Molecules from the Cephalochordate, Amphioxus, Suggest a Cytolytic Complement System in Invertebrates


  • Miho M.  Suzuki
    • Department of Zoology, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8502, Japan
  • Nori  Satoh
    • Department of Zoology, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8502, Japan
  • Masaru  Nonaka
    • Department of Biological Sciences, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo, Hongo, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan

DOI: 10.1007/s00239-001-0068-z

Cite this article as:
Suzuki, M., Satoh, N. & Nonaka, M. J Mol Evol (2002) 54: 671. doi:10.1007/s00239-001-0068-z


The mammalian immune system has cytotoxic mechanisms, both cellular and humoral, that destroy the membrane integrity of target cells. The main effector molecules of these cytolytic mechanisms—perforin, used by killer lymphocytes, and the membrane attack complex (MAC) components of the complement system—share a unique module called the MAC/perforin module. Until now, both immunological cytotoxicity and the MAC/perforin module have been reported only in jawed vertebrates. Here, we report the identification of a protein containing the MAC/perforin module from the invertebrate cephalochordate, amphioxus (Branchiostoma belcheri), using expressed sequence tag (EST) analysis of the notochord. The deduced amino acid sequence of this molecule is most similar to the primary structure of human complement component C6 and is designated AmphiC6. AmphiC6 shares a unique modular structure, including the MAC/perforin module, with human C6 and other MAC components. Another EST clone predicts the presence of a thioester-containing protein with the closest structural similarity to vertebrate C3 (therefore designated AmphiC3). AmphiC3 retains most of the functionally important residues of vertebrate C3 and is shown by phylogenetic analysis to be derived directly from the common ancestor of vertebrate C3, C4, and C5. Only opsonic activity has been assigned to the invertebrate complement system until now. Therefore, this is the first molecular evidence for complement-mediated immunological cytotoxicity in invertebrates.

Key words: Immunological cytotoxicity — Modular structure — Complement — Amphioxus — Membrane attack complex
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 2002