A crucial role of paralogous β-defensin genes in the Chinese alligator innate immune system revealed by the first determination of a Crocodilia defensin cluster

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The β-defensin, one of the antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), is a significant component of the innate immune with a broad range of antimicrobial activities. Differing from the widely-studied mammals and birds, limited information about β-defensins has been reported in reptiles, especially in crocodilians. As a same ancient species as dinosaurs and the most endangered species of 23 crocodilians, the survival of Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) means a powerful immune system and possible involvement of AMPs in its immune resistance. In this study, we identified 20 novel Alligatorsinensisβ-defensin genes (AsBDs) from a 390 kb region using bioinformatic and experimental approaches, and successfully distinguished six orthologous AsBDs to birds and nine paralogous AsBDs undergoing gene duplication events. The amino acid alignment shows that the AsBD paralogs, like α-defensins, encode a significantly longer pro-piece comparing with the orthologs. The calculation of non-synonymous (dN) and synonymous (dS) substitutions in the mature peptide reveals that the AsBD paralogs experience a significantly higher selective pressure (dN/dS) than the orthologs, but a similar evolutionary force to α-defensins. The gene expression result indicates that the AsBD paralogs have a significantly higher expression level than the orthologos in gastrointestinal tract where the host is vulnerable to enteric pathogenic bacteria, as observed in α-defensins. These three pieces of evidence demonstrate that the AsBD paralogs do play an important role in maintaining long-term survival of this endangered reptile. Thus, this survey of AsBDs on the genomic structure, evolutionary characteristics, and expression pattern provides a genetic and immunological foundation for further investigating their antimicrobial function and alternative antibiotics potentiality.HighlightsUsing bioinformatic and experimental approaches, we identified 20 β-defensins genes (6 orthologous to birds and 9 paralogous) from the genome of Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis).The study indicates that the paralogs have not only a significantly higher selective pressure (dN/dS) but also a significantly higher expression level relative to the orthologs.The Chinese alligator β-defensin paralogs play a crucial role in innate immune system of this endangered reptile.

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