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Molecular Population Genetics of the Gene Encoding the Human Fertilization Protein Zonadhesin Reveals Rapid Adaptive Evolution

The American Society of Human Genetics
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  • Article
  • Biology
  • Mathematics


A hallmark of positive selection (adaptive evolution) in protein-coding regions is a dN/dS ratio >1, where dN is the number of nonsynonymous substitutions/nonsynonymous sites and dS is the number of synonymous substitutions/synonymous sites. Zonadhesin is a male reproductive protein localized on the sperm head, comprising many domains known to be involved in cell-cell interaction or cell adhesion. Previous studies have shown that VWD domains (homologous to the D domains of the von Willebrand factor) are involved directly in binding to the female zona pellucida (ZP) in a species-specific manner. In this study, we sequenced 47 coding exons in 12 primate species and, by using maximum-likelihood methods to determine sites under positive selection, we show that VWD2, membrane/A5 antigen mu receptor, and mucin-like domains in zonadhesin are rapidly evolving and, thus, may be involved in binding to the ZP in a species-specific manner in primates. In addition, polymorphism data from 48 human individuals revealed significant polymorphism-to-divergence heterogeneity and a significant departure from equilibrium-neutral expectations in the frequency spectrum, suggesting balancing selection and positive selection occurring in zonadhesin (ZAN) within human populations. Finally, we observe adaptive evolution in haplotypes segregating for a frameshift mutation that was previously thought to indicate that ZAN was a potential pseudogene.

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