Why do humans need thrombospondin-1?

J Cell Commun Signal. 2023 Sep;17(3):485-493. doi: 10.1007/s12079-023-00722-5. Epub 2023 Jan 23.


Matricellular proteins comprise several families of secreted proteins that function in higher animals at the interface between cells and their surrounding extracellular matrix. Targeted gene disruptions that result in loss of viability in mice have revealed critical roles for several matricellular proteins in murine embryonic development, including two members of the cellular communication network (CCN) gene family. In contrast, mice lacking single or multiple members of the thrombospondin (THBS) gene family remain viable and fertile. The frequency of loss of function mutants, identified using human deep exome sequencing data, provided evidence that some of the essential genes in mice, including Ccn1, are also essential genes in humans. However, a deficit in loss of function mutants in humans indicated that THBS1 is also highly loss-intolerant. In addition to roles in embryonic development or adult reproduction, genes may be loss-intolerant in humans because their function is needed to survive environmental stresses that are encountered between birth and reproduction. Laboratory mice live in a protected environment that lacks the exposures to pathogens and injury that humans routinely face. However, subjecting Thbs1-/- mice to defined stresses has provided valuable insights into functions of thrombospondin-1 that could account for the loss-intolerance of THBS1 in humans. Stress response models using transgenic mice have identified protective functions of thrombospondin-1 in the cardiovascular system (red) and immune defenses (blue) that could account for its intolerance to loss of function mutants in humans.

Keywords: Essential genes; Human genetic variation; Loss of function variants; Matricellular proteins; Thrombospondin-1.

Publication types

  • Review