Characterization of antibody V segment diversity in the Tasmanian devil

Dr Beata Ujvari (Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin)Title: Characterization of antibody V segment diversity in the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

Authors: Beata Ujvari and Katherine Belov

Source: Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology (Available online 14 August 2015)

Brief summary of the paper: The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) immune system has recently been under scrutiny because of the emergence of a contagious cancer, which has decimated devil numbers.

Here we provide a comprehensive description of the Tasmanian devil immunoglobulin variable regions. We show that heavy chain variable (VH) and light chain variable (VL) repertoires are similar to those described in other marsupial taxa: VL diversity is high, but VH diversity is restricted and belongs only to clan III.

As in other mammals, one VH and one Vλ germline family and multiple incomplete Vκ germline sequences were identified in the genome. High Vκ variation was observed in transcripts and we predict that it may have arisen by gene conversion and/or somatic mutations, as it does not appear to have originated from germline variation. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that devil VL gene segments are highly complex and ancient, with some lineages predating the separation of marsupials and eutherians.

These results indicate that although the evolutionary history of immune genes lead to the expansions and contractions of immune gene families between different mammalian lineages, some of the ancestral immune gene variants are still maintained in extant species. A high degree of similarity was found between devil and other marsupial VH segments, demonstrating that they originated from a common clade of closely related sequences. The VL families had a higher variation than VH both between and within species.

We suggest that, similar to other studied marsupial species, the complex VL segment repertoire compensates for the limited VH diversity in Tasmanian devils.