Ancient and recent selective pressures shaped genetic diversity at AIM2-like nucleic acid sensors

Rachele Cagliani, Diego Forni, Mara Biasin, Manuel Comabella, Franca R. Guerini, Stefania Riva, Uberto Pozzoli, Cristina Agliardi, Domenico Caputo, Sunny Malhotra, Xavier Montalban, Nereo Bresolin, Mario Clerici, Manuela Sironi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


AIM2-like receptors (ALRs) are a family of nucleic acid sensors essential for innate immune responses against viruses and bacteria.We performed an evolutionary analysis of ALR genes (MNDA, PYHIN1, IFI16, and AIM2) by analyzing inter- and intraspecies diversity. Maximum-likelihood analyses indicated that IFI16 and AIM2 evolved adaptively in primates, with branch-specific selection at the catarrhini lineage for IFI16. Application of a population genetics-phylogenetics approach also allowed identification of positive selection events in the human lineage. Positive selection in primates targeted sites located at the DNA-binding interface in both IFI16andAIM2. InIFI16, several sites positively selected inprimates andin thehumanlineagewere located in the PYDdomain,which is involved in protein-protein interaction and is bound by a human cytomegalovirus immune evasion protein. Finally, positive selection was found to target nuclear localization signals in IFI16 and the spacer region separating the two HIN domains. Population genetic analysis in humans revealed that an IFI16 genic region has been a target of long-standing balancing selection, possibly acting on two nonsynonymous polymorphisms located in the spacer region. Data herein indicate that ALRs have been repeatedly targeted by natural selection. The balancing selection region in IFI16 carries a variant with opposite risk effect for distinct autoimmune diseases, suggesting antagonistic pleiotropy. We propose that the underlying scenario is the result of an ancestral and still ongoing host- pathogen arms race and that the maintenance of susceptibility alleles for autoimmune diseases at IFI16 represents an evolutionary trade-off.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)830-845
Number of pages16
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • AIM2-like receptors
  • IFI16
  • Long-standing balancing selection
  • Positive selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Medicine(all)


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