Evolution and Potential Subfunctionalization of Duplicated fms-Related Class III Receptor Tyrosine Kinase flt3s and Their Ligands in the Allotetraploid Xenopus laevis [IMMUNOGENETICS]

The fms-related tyrosine kinase 3 (Flt3) and its ligand (Flt3lg) are important regulators of hematopoiesis and dendritic cell (DC) homeostasis with unsettled coevolution. Gene synteny and deduced amino acid sequence analyses identified conserved flt3 gene orthologs across all jawed vertebrates. In contrast, flt3lg orthologs were not retrieved in ray-finned fish, and the gene locus exhibited more variability among species. Interestingly, duplicated flt3/flt3lg genes were maintained in the allotetraploid Xenopus laevis. Comparison of modeled structures of X. laevis Flt3 and Flt3lg homoeologs with the related diploid Xenopus tropicalis and with humans indicated a higher conformational divergence between the homoeologous pairs than their respective counterparts. The distinctive developmental and tissue expression patterns of Flt3 and Flt3lg homoeologs in tadpoles and adult frogs suggest a subfunctionalization of these homoeologs. To characterize Flt3 cell surface expression, X. laevis–tagged rFlt3lg.S and rFlt3lg.L were produced. Both rFlt3lg.S and rFlt3lg.L bind in vitro Flt3.S and Flt3.L and can trigger Erk1/2 signaling, which is consistent with a partial overlapping function between homoeologs. In spleen, Flt3.S/L cell surface expression was detected on a fraction of B cells and a population of MHC class IIhigh/CD8+ leukocytes phenotypically similar to the recently described dual follicular/conventional DC-like XL cells. Our result suggests that 1) Flt3lg.S and Flt3lg.L are both involved in XL cell homeostasis and that 2) XL cells have hematopoietic origin. Furthermore, we detected surface expression of the macrophage/monocyte marker Csf1r.S on XL cells as in mammalian and chicken DCs, which points to a common evolutionary origin in vertebrate DCs.

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