Comparative genomics reveals the origins and diversity of arthropod immune systems

Comparative genomics reveals the origins and diversity of arthropod immune systems
William J Palmer, Francis M Jiggins

While the innate immune system of insects is well-studied, comparatively little is known about how other arthropods defend themselves against infection. We have characterised key immune components in the genomes of five chelicerates, a myriapod and a crustacean. We found clear traces of an ancient origin of innate immunity, with some arthropods having Tolllike receptors and C3-complement factors that are more closely related in sequence or structure to vertebrates than other arthropods. Across the arthropods some components of the immune system, like the Toll signalling pathway, are highly conserved. However, there is also remarkable diversity. The chelicerates apparently lack the Imd signalling pathway and BGRPs–a key class of pathogen recognition receptors. Many genes have large copy number variation across species, and this may sometimes be accompanied by changes in function. For example, peptidoglycan recognition proteins (PGRPs) have frequently lost their catalytic activity and switch between secreted and intracellular forms. There has been extensive duplication of the cellular immune receptor Dscam in several species, which may be an alternative way to generate the high diversity that produced by alternative splicing in insects. Our results provide a detailed analysis of the immune systems of several important groups of animals and lay the foundations for functional work on these groups.

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