Evolution of Antigen Binding Receptors

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vertebrate phylogeny, immunoglobulin, T cell antigen receptors, adaptive immunity, gene rearrangement

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This review addresses issues related to the evolution of the complex multigene families of antigen binding receptors that function in adaptive immunity. Advances in molecular genetic technology now permit the study of immunoglobulin (Ig) and T cell receptor (TCR) genes in many species that are not commonly studied yet represent critical branch points in vertebrate phylogeny. Both Ig and TCR genes have been defined in most of the major lineages of jawed vertebrates, including the cartilaginous fishes, which represent the most phylogenetically divergent jawed vertebrate group relative to the mammals. Ig genes in cartilaginous fish are encoded by multiple individual loci that each contain rearranging segmental elements and constant regions. In some loci, segmental elements are joined in the germline, i.e. they do not undergo genetic rearrangement. Other major differences in Ig gene organization and the mechanisms of somatic diversification have occurred throughout vertebrate evolution. However, relating these changes to adaptive immune function in lower vertebrates is challenging. TCR genes exhibit greater sequence diversity in individual segmental elements than is found in Ig genes but have undergone fewer changes in gene organization, isotype diversity, and mechanisms of diversification. As of yet, homologous forms of antigen binding receptors have not been identified in jawless vertebrates; however, acquisition of large amounts of structural data for the antigen binding receptors that are found in a variety of jawed vertebrates has defined shared characteristics that provide unique insight into the distant origins of the rearranging gene systems and their relationships to both adaptive and innate recognition processes.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Annual Review of Immunology, v. 17, p. 109-147