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Journal Article

Ancient loss of catalytic selenocysteine spurred convergent adaptation in a mammalian oxidoreductase


Sarangi,  Gaurab K.
Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Rees, J., Sarangi, G. K., Cheng, Q., Floor, M., Andrés, A. M., Miguel, B. O., et al. (2024). Ancient loss of catalytic selenocysteine spurred convergent adaptation in a mammalian oxidoreductase. Genome Biology and Evolution, 16(3): evae041. doi:10.1093/gbe/evae041.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000F-1D1A-5
Selenocysteine, the 21st amino acid specified by the genetic code, is a rare selenium-containing residue found in the catalytic site of selenoprotein oxidoreductases. Selenocysteine is analogous to the common cysteine amino acid, but its selenium atom offers physical-chemical properties not provided by the corresponding sulfur atom in cysteine. Catalytic sites with selenocysteine in selenoproteins of vertebrates are under strong purifying selection, but one enzyme, glutathione peroxidase 6 (GPX6), independently exchanged selenocysteine for cysteine <100 million years ago in several mammalian lineages. We reconstructed and assayed these ancient enzymes before and after selenocysteine was lost and up to today and found them to have lost their classic ability to reduce hydroperoxides using glutathione. This loss of function, however, was accompanied by additional amino acid changes in the catalytic domain, with protein sites concertedly changing under positive selection across distant lineages abandoning selenocysteine in glutathione peroxidase 6. This demonstrates a narrow evolutionary range in maintaining fitness when sulfur in cysteine impairs the catalytic activity of this protein, with pleiotropy and epistasis likely driving the observed convergent evolution. We propose that the mutations shared across distinct lineages may trigger enzymatic properties beyond those in classic glutathione peroxidases, rather than simply recovering catalytic rate. These findings are an unusual example of adaptive convergence across mammalian selenoproteins, with the evolutionary signatures possibly representing the evolution of novel oxidoreductase functions. © The Author(s) 2024.