Rapid evolution by positive Darwinian selection in T-cell antigen CD4 in primates

J Mol Evol. 2008 May;66(5):446-56. doi: 10.1007/s00239-008-9097-1. Epub 2008 Apr 15.


CD4, an integral membrane glycoprotein, plays a critical role in the immune response and in the life cycle of simian and human immunodeficiency virus (SIV and HIV). Pairwise comparisons of orthologous human and mouse genes show that CD4 is evolving much faster than the majority of mammalian genes. The acceleration is too great to be attributed to a simple relaxation of the action of purifying selection alone. Here we show that the selective pressure acting on CD4 is highly variable between regions in the protein and identify codon sites under strong positive selection. We reconstruct the coding sequences for ancestral primate CD4s and model tertiary structures of all ancestral and extant sequences. Structural mapping of positively selected sites shows they distribute on the surface of the D1 domain of CD4, where the exogenous SIV gp120 protein binds. Moreover, structural models of the ancestral sequences show substantially larger variation in the interfacial electrostatic charge on CD4 and in the surface complementary between CD4 and gp120 in CD4 lineages from primates with natural SIV infections than those without. Thus, positive selection on CD4 among primates may reflect forces driven by SIV infection and could provide a link between changes in sequence and structure of CD4 during evolution and the interaction with the immunodeficiency virus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / genetics
  • CD4 Antigens / chemistry
  • CD4 Antigens / genetics*
  • CD4 Antigens / metabolism
  • Computer Simulation
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Primates / genetics*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Viral Envelope Proteins / metabolism


  • CD4 Antigens
  • HIV Envelope Protein gp120
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Viral Envelope Proteins
  • gp120 protein, Simian immunodeficiency virus