Comparative and Evolutionary Analysis of Grass Pollen Allergens Using Brachypodium distachyon as a Model System

PLoS One. 2017 Jan 19;12(1):e0169686. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169686. eCollection 2017.


Comparative genomics have facilitated the mining of biological information from a genome sequence, through the detection of similarities and differences with genomes of closely or more distantly related species. By using such comparative approaches, knowledge can be transferred from the model to non-model organisms and insights can be gained in the structural and evolutionary patterns of specific genes. In the absence of sequenced genomes for allergenic grasses, this study was aimed at understanding the structure, organisation and expression profiles of grass pollen allergens using the genomic data from Brachypodium distachyon as it is phylogenetically related to the allergenic grasses. Combining genomic data with the anther RNA-Seq dataset revealed 24 pollen allergen genes belonging to eight allergen groups mapping on the five chromosomes in B. distachyon. High levels of anther-specific expression profiles were observed for the 24 identified putative allergen-encoding genes in Brachypodium. The genomic evidence suggests that gene encoding the group 5 allergen, the most potent trigger of hay fever and allergic asthma originated as a pollen specific orphan gene in a common grass ancestor of Brachypodium and Triticiae clades. Gene structure analysis showed that the putative allergen-encoding genes in Brachypodium either lack or contain reduced number of introns. Promoter analysis of the identified Brachypodium genes revealed the presence of specific cis-regulatory sequences likely responsible for high anther/pollen-specific expression. With the identification of putative allergen-encoding genes in Brachypodium, this study has also described some important plant gene families (e.g. expansin superfamily, EF-Hand family, profilins etc) for the first time in the model plant Brachypodium. Altogether, the present study provides new insights into structural characterization and evolution of pollen allergens and will further serve as a base for their functional characterization in related grass species.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / chemistry
  • Allergens / classification
  • Allergens / genetics*
  • Brachypodium / genetics*
  • Brachypodium / immunology*
  • Chromosomes, Plant / genetics
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Plant
  • Humans
  • Lolium / genetics
  • Lolium / immunology
  • Models, Genetic
  • Models, Immunological
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phleum / genetics
  • Phleum / immunology
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Proteins / chemistry
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / immunology
  • Poaceae / genetics*
  • Poaceae / immunology*
  • Pollen / chemistry
  • Pollen / genetics*
  • Pollen / immunology*
  • Protein Domains
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / etiology
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / immunology


  • Allergens
  • Plant Proteins

Grants and funding

The research was funded by the University of Melbourne as a postgraduate scholarship for Akanksha Sharma. Financial support from the Australian Research Council (ARC DPO988972) is also gratefully acknowledged. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.