Episodic evolution of pyrin in primates: human mutations recapitulate ancestral amino acid states

Nat Genet. 2001 Mar;27(3):318-21. doi: 10.1038/85893.


Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF; MIM 249100) is an autosomal recessive disease characterized by recurrent attacks of fever with synovial, pleural or peritoneal inflammation. The disease is caused by mutations in the gene encoding the pyrin protein. Human population studies have revealed extremely high allele frequencies for several different pyrin mutations, leading to the conclusion that the mutant alleles confer a selective advantage. Here we examine the ret finger protein (rfp) domain (which contains most of the disease-causing mutations) of pyrin during primate evolution. Amino acids that cause human disease are often present as wild type in other species. This is true at positions 653 (a novel mutation), 680, 681, 726, 744 and 761. For several of these human mutations, the mutant represents the reappearance of an ancestral amino acid state. Examination of lineage-specific dN/dS ratios revealed a pattern consistent with the signature of episodic positive selection. Our data, together with previous human population studies, indicate that selective pressures may have caused functional evolution of pyrin in humans and other primates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • DNA Primers / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Familial Mediterranean Fever / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Phylogeny
  • Primates / genetics*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics
  • Proteins / chemistry
  • Proteins / genetics*
  • Pyrin
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • DNA Primers
  • MEFV protein, human
  • Proteins
  • Pyrin