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Molecular pathology and evolutionary and physiological implications of pancreatitis-associated cationic trypsinogen mutations

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Since the identification in 1996 of a "gain of function" missense mutation, R122H, in the cationic trypsinogen gene (PRSS1) as a cause of hereditary pancreatitis, continued screening of this gene in both hereditary and sporadic pancreatitis has found more disease-associated missense mutations than expected. In addition, functional analysis has yielded interesting findings regarding their underlying mechanisms resulting in a gain of trypsin. A critical review of these data, in the context of the complicated biogenesis and complex autoactivation and autolysis of trypsin(ogen), highlights that PRSS1 mutations cause the disease by various mechanisms depending on which biochemical process they affect. The discovery of these mutations also modifies the classical perception of the disease and, more importantly, reveals fascinating new aspects of the molecular evolution and normal physiology of trypsinogen. First, activation peptide of trypsinogen is under strong selection pressure to minimize autoactivation in higher vertebrates. Second, the R122 primary autolysis site has further evolved in mammalian trypsinogens. Third, evolutionary divergence from threonine to asparagine at residue 29 in human cationic trypsinogen provides additional advantage. Accordingly, we tentatively assign, in human cationic trypsinogen, the strongly selected activation peptide as the first-line and the R122 autolysis site as the second-line of the built-in defensive mechanisms against premature trypsin activation within the pancreas, respectively, and the positively selected asparagine at residue 29 as an "amplifier" to the R122 "fail-safe" mechanism.

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Chen, JM., Montier, T. & Férec, C. Molecular pathology and evolutionary and physiological implications of pancreatitis-associated cationic trypsinogen mutations. Hum Genet 109, 245–252 (2001).

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