Sequence Diversity at the Proximal 14q32.1 SERPIN Subcluster: Evidence for Natural Selection Favoring the Pseudogenization of SERPINA2

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The superfamily of serine protease inhibitors (SERPINs) plays a key role in controlling the activity of proteinases in diverse biological processes. α1-antitrypsin (SERPINA1), the most studied member of this family, is encoded by a gene located within the proximal 14q32.1 SERPIN subcluster, together with the highly homologous α1-antitrypsin–like sequence (SERPINA2), which was previously proposed to be a pseudogene. Here, we performed a resequencing study encompassing both SERPINA1 and SERPINA2 as well as the adjacent gene coding for corticosteroid-binding globulin (SERPINA6) in samples from Europe and West Africa. In the African sample, we found that a common haplotype carrying a 2-kb deletion in the SERPINA2 gene is associated with remarkable long-range homozygozity as if it was quickly driven to high frequency by natural selection acting on an advantageous variant. An analysis of the HapMap Phase I data for the Yoruba sample confirmed that variation in this subcluster carries a strong signal of positive selection. We also show that the SERPINA2 gene is expressed and probably encodes a functional SERPIN. Finally, comparisons with orthologous sequences in nonhuman primates showed that SERPINA2 is present in some great apes, but in chimpanzees it was lost by a deletion event independent from that observed in humans. In agreement with the “less is more” hypothesis, we propose that loss of SERPINA2 is an ongoing process associated with a selective advantage during recent primate evolution, possibly because of a role in fertility or in host–pathogen interactions.

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