Positive evolutionary selection on the RIG-I-like receptor genes in mammals

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The mammalian RIG-I-like receptors, RIG-I, MDA5 and LGP2, are a family of DExD/H box RNA helicases responsible for the cytoplasmic detection of viral RNA. These receptors detect a variety of RNA viruses, or DNA viruses that express unusual RNA species, many of which are responsible for a great number of severe and lethal diseases. Host innate sentinel proteins involved in pathogen recognition must rapidly evolve in a dynamic arms race with pathogens, and thus are subjected to long-term positive selection pressures to avoid potential infections. Using six codon-based Maximum Likelihood methods, we were able to identify specific codons under positive selection in each of these three genes. The highest number of positively selected codons was detected in MDA5, but a great percentage of these codons were located outside of the currently defined protein domains for MDA5, which likely reflects the imposition of both functional and structural constraints. Additionally, our results support LGP2 as being the least prone to evolutionary change, since the lowest number of codons under selection was observed for this gene. On the other hand, the preponderance of positively selected codons for RIG-I were detected in known protein functional domains, suggesting that pressure has been imposed by the vast number of viruses that are recognized by this RNA helicase. Furthermore, the RIG-I repressor domain, the region responsible for recognizing and binding to its RNA substrates, exhibited the strongest evidence of selective pressures. Branch-site analyses were performed and several species branches on the three receptor gene trees showed evidence of episodic positive selection. In conclusion, by looking for evidence of positive evolutionary selection on mammalian RIG-I-like receptor genes, we propose that a multitude of viruses have crafted the receptors biological function in host defense, specifically for the RIG-I gene, contributing to the innate species-specific resistance/ susceptibility to diverse viral pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere81864
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 27 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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