CD45 of jawed vertebrates is a receptor-type protein tyrosine phosphatase regulating lymphocyte development and activation. To shed light on the evolution of the CD45 gene, the organization of its orthologue in the lamprey, a jawless vertebrate, was determined. Compared to its mammalian and fugu counterparts, the lamprey gene was found to be lacking several exons in the segment encoding the extracellular part of the protein. In consequence, this part contains only one instead of the two or three fibronectin type III domains typical of the mammalian molecules. The lamprey transcripts of the CD45 gene occur in several variants originating by alternative splicing, including some not observed previously in other vertebrates. Most remarkable of these are splice variants generated by the use of intra-exonic splicing signals and thus lacking one half, one third, or two thirds of an exon and yet apparently translated in the correct reading frame. The lamprey gene contains polymorphic sites not only in the segment encoding the extracellular portion but also in the segment specifying the cytoplasmic part of the molecule. Polymorphism is generated by both mutations and recombination. Some of the alleles may have persisted long enough to represent transspecies polymorphism presumably maintained by positive selection. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that ancestors of the CD45 gene may have existed before the divergence of coelomate from pseudocoelomate metazoans.
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