The evolutionarily dynamic IFN-inducible GTPase proteins play conserved immune functions in vertebrates and cephalochordates

Mol Biol Evol. 2009 Jul;26(7):1619-30. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msp074. Epub 2009 Apr 15.


Interferon (IFN)-inducible GTPases currently include four families of proteins: myxovirus resistant proteins (Mxs), guanylate-binding proteins (GBPs), immunity-related GTPase proteins (IRGs), and very large inducible GTPase proteins (VLIGs). They are all under conserved regulation by IFNs in humans and mice and play a critical role in preventing microbial infections. However, differences between vertebrates are poorly characterized, and their evolutionary origins have not been studied in detail. In this study, we performed comparative genomic analysis of the four families in 18 representative animals that yielded several unexpected results. Firstly, we found that Mx, GBP, and IRG protein families arose before the divergence of chordate subphyla, but VLIG emerged solely in vertebrates. Secondly, IRG, GBP, and VLIG families have experienced a high rate of gene gain and loss during the evolution, with the GBP family being lost entirely in two pufferfish and VLIG family lost in primates and carnivores. Thirdly, the regulation of these genes by IFNs is highly conserved throughout vertebrates although the VLIG protein sequences in fish have lost the first 870 amino acid residues. Finally, amphioxus IFN-inducible GTPase genes are all highly expressed in immune-related organs such as gill, liver, and intestine and are upregulated after challenge with PolyI:C and pathogens, although no IFNs or their receptors were detected in the current amphioxus genome database. These results suggest that IFN-inducible GTPase genes play conserved immune functions both in vertebrates and in cephalochordates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chordata, Nonvertebrate / genetics*
  • Chordata, Nonvertebrate / immunology*
  • Chordata, Nonvertebrate / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Expressed Sequence Tags
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / genetics*
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / immunology*
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interferons / immunology
  • Interferons / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Vertebrates / genetics*
  • Vertebrates / immunology*
  • Vertebrates / metabolism


  • Interferons
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases