The alpha-actinins are an ancient family of actin-binding proteins that play structural and regulatory roles in cytoskeletal organisation and muscle contraction. alpha-actinin-3 is the most-highly specialised of the four mammalian alpha-actinins, with its expression restricted largely to fast glycolytic fibres in skeletal muscle. Intriguingly, a significant proportion ( approximately 18%) of the human population is totally deficient in alpha-actinin-3 due to homozygosity for a premature stop codon polymorphism (R577X) in the ACTN3 gene. Recent work in our laboratory has revealed a strong association between R577X genotype and performance in a variety of athletic endeavours. We are currently exploring the function and evolutionary history of the ACTN3 gene and other alpha-actinin family members. The alpha-actinin family provides a fascinating case study in molecular evolution, illustrating phenomena such as functional redundancy in duplicate genes, the evolution of protein function, and the action of natural selection during recent human evolution.
Copyright 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.