Genomic assessment of the evolution of the prion protein gene family in vertebrates

Genomics. 2010 May;95(5):268-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ygeno.2010.02.008. Epub 2010 Mar 3.


Prion diseases are devastating neurological disorders caused by the propagation of particles containing an alternative beta-sheet-rich form of the prion protein (PrP). Genes paralogous to PrP, called Doppel and Shadoo, have been identified, that also have neuropathological relevance. To aid in the further functional characterization of PrP and its relatives, we annotated completely the PrP gene family (PrP-GF), in the genomes of 42 vertebrates, through combined strategic application of gene prediction programs and advanced remote homology detection techniques (such as HMMs, PSI-TBLASTN and pGenThreader). We have uncovered several previously undescribed paralogous genes and pseudogenes. We find that current high-quality genomic evidence indicates that the PrP relative Doppel, was likely present in the last common ancestor of present-day Tetrapoda, but was lost in the bird lineage, since its divergence from reptiles. Using the new gene annotations, we have defined the consensus of structural features that are characteristic of the PrP and Doppel structures, across diverse Tetrapoda clades. Furthermore, we describe in detail a transcribed pseudogene derived from Shadoo that is conserved across primates, and that overlaps the meiosis gene, SYCE1, thus possibly regulating its expression. In addition, we analysed the locus of PRNP/PRND for significant conservation across the genomic DNA of eleven mammals, and determined the phylogenetic penetration of non-coding exons. The genomic evidence indicates that the second PRNP non-coding exon found in even-toed ungulates and rodents, is conserved in all high-coverage genome assemblies of primates (human, chimp, orang utan and macaque), and is, at least, likely to have fallen out of use during primate speciation. Furthermore, we have demonstrated that the PRNT gene (at the PRNP human locus) is conserved across at least sixteen mammals, and evolves like a long non-coding RNA, fashioned from fragments of ancient, long, interspersed elements. These annotations and evolutionary analyses will be of further use for functional characterisation of the PrP-GF, and will be updatable in a semi-automated fashion as more genomes accumulate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • Genetic Loci / genetics*
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Prion Proteins
  • Prions / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods
  • Software*


  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • PRND protein, human
  • PRNP protein, human
  • Prion Proteins
  • Prions