Evolution of the Insulin Receptor Family and Receptor Isoform Expression in Vertebrates

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The molecular phylogeny of the vertebrate insulin receptor (IR) family was reconstructed under maximum likelihood (ML) to establish homologous relationships among its members. A sister group relationship between the orphan insulin–related receptor (IRR) and the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF1R) to the exclusion of the IR obtained maximal bootstrap support. Although both IR and IGF1R were identified in all vertebrates, IRR could not be found in any teleost fish. The ancestral character states at each position of the receptor molecule were inferred for IR, IRR + IGF1R, and all 3 paralogous groups based on the recovered phylogeny using ML in order to determine those residues that could be important for the specific function of IR. For 18 residues, ancestral character state of IR was significantly distinct (probability >0.95) with respect to the corresponding inferred ancestral character states both of IRR + IGF1R and of all 3 vertebrate paralogs. Most of these IR distinct (shared derived) residues were located on the extracellular portion of the receptor (because this portion is larger and the rate of generation of IR shared derived sites is uniform along the receptor), suggesting that functional diversification during the evolutionary history of the family was largely generated modifying ligand affinity rather than signal transduction at the tyrosine kinase domain. In addition, 2 residues at positions 436 and 1095 of the human IR sequence were identified as radical cluster-specific sites in IRR + IGF1R. Both Ir and Irr have an extra exon (namely exon 11) with respect to Igf1r. We used the molecular phylogeny to infer the evolution of this additional exon. The Irr exon 11 can be traced back to amphibians, whereas we show that presence and alternative splicing of Ir exon 11 seems to be restricted exclusively to mammals. The highly divergent sequence of both exons and the reconstructed phylogeny of the vertebrate IR family strongly indicate that both exons were acquired independently by each paralog.

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