Origin and evolution of the RIG-I like RNA helicase gene family

Jun Zou, Mingxian Chang, Pin Nie, Chris J Secombes

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Background: The DExD/H domain containing RNA helicases such as retinoic acid-inducible gene I (RIG-I) and melanoma differentiation-associated gene 5 (MDA5) are key cytosolic pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) for detecting nucleotide pathogen associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) of invading viruses. The RIG-I and MDA5 proteins differentially recognise conserved PAMPs in double stranded or single stranded viral RNA molecules, leading to activation of the interferon system in vertebrates. They share three core protein domains including a RNA helicase domain near the C terminus (HELICc), one or more caspase activation and recruitment domains (CARDs) and an ATP dependent DExD/H domain. The RIG-I/MDA5 directed interferon response is negatively regulated by laboratory of genetics and physiology 2 (LGP2) and is believed to be controlled by the mitochondria antiviral signalling protein (MAVS), a CARD containing protein associated with mitochondria.

Results: The DExD/H containing RNA helicases including RIG-I, MDA5 and LGP2 were analysed in silico in a wide spectrum of invertebrate and vertebrate genomes. The gene synteny of MDA5 and LGP2 is well conserved among vertebrates whilst conservation of the gene synteny of RIG-I is less apparent. Invertebrate homologues had a closer phylogenetic relationship with the vertebrate RIG-Is than the MDA5/LGP2 molecules, suggesting the RIG-I homologues may have emerged earlier in evolution, possibly prior to the appearance of vertebrates. Our data suggest that the RIG-I like helicases possibly originated from three distinct genes coding for the core domains including the HELICc, CARD and ATP dependent DExD/H domains through gene fusion and gene/domain duplication. Furthermore, presence of domains similar to a prokaryotic DNA restriction enzyme III domain (Res III), and a zinc finger domain of transcription factor (TF) IIS have been detected by bioinformatic analysis.

Conclusion: The RIG-I/MDA5 viral surveillance system is conserved in vertebrates. The RIG-I like helicase family appears to have evolved from a common ancestor that originated from genes encoding different core functional domains. Diversification of core functional domains might be fundamental to their functional divergence in terms of recognition of different viral PAMPs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number85
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2009


  • double-stranded-RNA
  • antiviral responses
  • innate immunity
  • recognition
  • domain
  • LGP2
  • elongation
  • receptors
  • mechanism
  • cleavage


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