Evolution of viral sensing RIG-I-like receptor genes in Leporidae genera Oryctolagus, Sylvilagus, and Lepus

Ana Lemos De Matos, Grant McFadden, Pedro J. Esteves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


One of the most severe European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) pathogens is myxoma virus (MYXV), a rabbit-specific leporipoxvirus that causes the highly lethal disease myxomatosis. Other leporid genera, Sylvilagus and Lepus, encompass species with variable susceptibilities to MYXV, but these do not develop the lethal form of the disease. The protective role of the retinoic acid-inducible gene-I (RIG-I/DDX58) in sensing MYXV in nonpermissive human myeloid cells prompted the study of the RIG-I-like receptor (RLR) family evolution in the three leporid genera. This viral-sensor family also includes the melanoma differentiation-associated factor 5 (MDA5/IFIH1), and the laboratory of genetics and physiology 2 (LGP2/DHX58). Considering specifically the MYXV susceptible host (European rabbit) and one of the virus natural long-term hosts (Sylvilagus bachmani, brush rabbit), the amino acid differences of positively selected sites in RIG-I between the two species were located in the protein region responsible for viral RNA recognition and binding, the repressor domain. Such differences might play a determinant role in how MYXV is sensed. When looking for episodic selection on MDA5 and LGP2 of the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), we also uncovered evidence of selective pressures that might be exerted by a species-specific leporipoxvirus, the Shope fibroma virus. Finally, a putative alternative splicing case was identified in Oryctolagus and Lepus MDA5 isoforms, corresponding to the deletion of one specific exon. This study provided the first insights into the evolution of the leporid RLR gene family that helps illuminate the origins of the species-specific innate responses to pathogens and more specifically to MYXV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-52
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Evolution
  • Leporid
  • Myxoma virus
  • Positive selection
  • RIG-I-like receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Genetics


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