Alternative splicing after gene duplication drives CEACAM1-paralog diversification in the horse
Background The CEA gene family is one of the most rapidly evolving gene families in the human genome. The founder gene of the family is thought to be an ancestor of the inhibitory immune checkpoint molecule CEACAM1. Comprehensive analyses of mammalian genomes showed that the CEA gene family is subject to tremendous gene family expansion and contraction events in different mammalian species. While in some species (e.g. rabbits) less than three CEACAM1 related genes exist, were in others (certain microbat species) up to 100 CEACAM1 paralogs identified. We have recently reported that the horse has also an extended CEA gene family. Since mechanisms of gene family expansion and diversification are not well understood we aimed to analyze the equine CEA gene family in detail. Results We found that the equine CEA gene family contains 17 functional CEACAM1-related genes. Nine of them were secreted molecules and eight CEACAMs contain transmembrane and cytoplasmic domain exons, the latter being in the focus of the present report. Only one (CEACAM41) gene has exons coding for activating signaling motifs all other CEACAM1 paralogs contain cytoplasmic exons similar to that of the inhibitory receptor CEACAM1. However, cloning of cDNAs showed that only one CEACAM1 paralog contain functional immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motifs in its cytoplasmic tail. Three receptors have acquired a stop codon in the transmembrane domain and two have lost their inhibitory motifs due to alternative splicing events. In addition, alternative splicing eliminated the transmembrane exon sequence of the putative activating receptor, rendering it to a secreted molecule. Transfection of eukaryotic cells with FLAG-tagged alternatively spliced CEACAMs indicates that they can be expressed in vivo. Thus detection of CEACAM41 mRNA in activated PBMC suggests that CEACAM41 is secreted by lymphoid cells upon activation. Conclusions The results of our study demonstrate that alternative splicing after gene duplication is a potent mechanism to accelerate functional diversification of the equine CEA gene family members. This potent mechanism has created novel CEACAM receptors with unique signaling capacities and secreted CEACAMs which potentially enables equine lymphoid cells to control distantly located immune cells.