A gene family of putative immune recognition molecules in the hydroid Hydractinia
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Animal taxa display a wide array of immune-type receptors that differ in their specificities, diversity, and mode of evolution. These molecules ensure effective recognition of potential pathogens for subsequent neutralization and clearance. We have characterized a family of putative immune recognition molecules in the colonial hydroid Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus. A complementary DNA fragment with high similarity to the sea urchin l-rhamnose-binding lectin was isolated and used to screen 9.5 genome equivalents of a H. symbiolongicarpus bacterial artificial chromosome library. One of the resulting 19 positive clones was sequenced and revealed the presence of a 5,111-bp gene organized in 13 exons and 12 introns. The gene was predicted to encode a 726-amino acid secreted modular protein composed of a signal peptide, an anonymous serine-rich domain, eight thrombospondin type 1 repeats, and a l-rhamnose-binding lectin domain. The molecule was thus termed Rhamnospondin (Rsp). Southern hybridization and sequence analyses indicated the presence of a second Rsp gene. The cDNA from both Rsp genes was sequenced in 18 individuals, revealing high levels of genetic polymorphism. Nucleotide substitutions were distributed throughout the molecule and showed a significantly higher number of synonymous substitutions per synonymous sites than its nonsynonymous counterparts. Whole-mount in situ hybridization and semi-quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction of microorganism-challenged colonies indicated that Rsp molecules were specifically and constitutively expressed in the hypostome of gastrozooids’ mouth. Thus, the combination of (1) comparative analysis on domain composition and function, (2) polymorphism, and (3) expression patterns, suggest that Rsp genes encode a family of putative immune recognition receptors, which may act by binding microorganisms invading the colony through the polyp’s mouth.