Relaxin family peptide receptors (Rxfps) and their ligands, relaxin (Rln) and insulin-like (Insl) peptides, are broadly implicated in the regulation of reproductive and neuroendocrine processes in mammals. Most placental mammals harbour genes for four receptors, namely rxfp1, rxfp2, rxfp3 and rxfp4. The number and identity of rxfps in other vertebrates are immensely variable, which is probably attributable to intraspecific variation in reproductive and neuroendocrine regulation. Here, we highlight several interesting, but greatly overlooked, aspects of the rln/insl-rxfp evolutionary history: the ancient origin, recruitment of novel receptors, diverse roles of selection, differential retention and lineage-specific loss of genes over evolutionary time. The tremendous diversity of rln/insl and rxfp genes appears to have arisen from two divergent receptors and one ligand that were duplicated by whole genome duplications (WGD) in early vertebrate evolution, although several genes, notably relaxin in mammals, were also duplicated via small scale duplications. Duplication and loss of genes have varied across lineages: teleosts retained more WGD-derived genes, dominated by those thought to be involved in neuroendocrine regulation (rln3, insl5 and rxfp 3/4 genes), while eutherian mammals witnessed the diversification and rapid evolution of genes involved in reproduction (rln/insl3). Several genes that arose early in evolutionary history were lost in most mammals, but retained in teleosts and, to a lesser extent, in early diverging tetrapods. To elaborate on their evolutionary history, we provide updated phylogenies of the Rxfp1/2 and Rxfp3/4 receptors and their ligands, including new sequences from early diverging vertebrate taxa such as coelacanth, skate, spotted gar, and lamprey. We also summarize the recent progress made towards understanding the functional biology of Rxfps in non-mammalian taxa, providing a new conceptual framework for research on Rxfp signaling across vertebrates.
Keywords: GPCR evolution; Gene nomenclature; Insulin superfamily; Phylogenetics; Relaxin and insulin-like peptides; Relaxin family peptide receptors (RXFP); Whole genome duplication.
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