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Molecular evolution of the ATP-binding cassette subfamily G member 2 gene subfamily and its paralogs in birds

Abstract

Background

ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters are involved in the active transportation of various endogenous or exogenous substances. Two ABCG2 gene subfamily members have been identified in birds. A detailed comparative study of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes aid our understanding of their evolutionary history at the molecular level and provide a theoretical reference for studying the specific functions of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds.

Results

We first identified 77 ABCG2/ABCG2-like gene sequences in the genomes of 41 birds. Further analysis showed that both the nucleic acid and amino acid sequences of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were highly conserved and exhibited high homology in birds. However, significant differences in the N-terminal structure were found between the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences. A selective pressure analysis showed that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were affected by purifying selection during the process of bird evolution.

Conclusions

We believe that multiple members of the ABCG2 gene subfamily exist on chromosome 4 in the ancestors of birds. Over the long course of evolution, only the ABCG2 gene was retained on chromosome 4 in birds. The ABCG2-like gene on chromosome 6 might have originated from chromosome replication or fusion. The structural differences between the N terminus of ABCG2 protein and those of ABCG2-like proteins might lead to functional differences between the corresponding genes.

Background

The ATP-binding cassette (ABC) subfamily G member 2 (junior blood group) (ABCG2) gene is the second member of the G subfamily of ABC transporters and is also considered the breast cancer resistance protein (BCRP) gene [1, 2]. The ABCG2/BCRP protein is mainly distributed in tissues with secretory and excretory functions, such as placental/synovial trophoblasts, small and large intestinal epithelia, liver tubule membrane, canaliculi, mammary lobule and vascular endothelial cells [3, 4]. The human ABCG2 protein contains a nucleotide-binding domain (NBD) and six transmembrane domains (TMDs) [5]. The ABCG2 protein can transport substrates from intracellular fluids to extracellular interstitial fluids and is reportedly involved in various other functions [6, 7], such as the stability of stem cells [8], the steady state of tissues cells [9,10,11], maintaining the blood-brain barrier and the fetal blood barrier [1, 12] and reducing drug absorption, distribution and excretion [13].

The members of the ABC transporter superfamily in most mammals can be classified into seven subfamilies (from A to G) [14], and each of these subfamilies might have undergone a long evolutionary process, from single structures to half structures or ABC2 structures, and then from half structures to full structures (simple to complex structures). Xiong et al. [15] found that NBD and TMD domain fusion events might have occurred during the above process and that these fusion events occurred at least four times during the transformation from the half-structured transporters to full structures. Some ABC proteins have lost their TMD, which leads to changes in their basic functions (e.g., ABCE and ABCF). During the evolution of the seven full-structure ABC transporters, ABCA, ABCB, ABCC and ABCG originated before the last eukaryotic common ancestor (LECA), whereas the ABCD, ABCE and ABCF families originated before terrestrial plants, archaea, and the differentiation between bacteria and archaea, respectively.

A large number of gene family duplications have occurred via whole-genome duplication (WGD) events [16,17,18]. Seret et al. [19] found that members of the ATP-binding cassette superfamily, namely, Pdr5p and Snq2p, derived from a common ancestor gene before WGD. In contrast, both Pdr10p (Pdr5p paralog) and YNR070wp (Snq2p paralog) originated from independent duplicating events after WGD. Duplication events of ABC transporter genes have occurred in both fish and mammalian genomes, but ABC transporter gene loss events have also occurred due to duplicating events in a large number of genes. Annilo et al. [20] found that both gene transformation and coevolution occurred during the introduction and loss of ABC transporter genes. Moreover, human ABC transporter genes show 94, 85 and 77% homology to those in mammals, chickens and zebrafish, respectively. However, only 41 ABC transporter genes can be found in chickens, which is fewest number of those found in any higher vertebrate, and no specific genome-duplication events have been detected in birds.

The ABCG2 gene is located in a quantitative trait locus (QTL) in some livestock species, and mutations in ABCG2 are associated with performance and disease traits in livestock and humans [21]. For example, ABCG2 variants are likely to affect the milk yield and composition in Holstein cattle [21,22,23] and the development of gout [24] and drug resistance in human cancer cells [1, 25,26,27,28] (e.g., breast [1, 27], colon [25] and liver [28] cancer cells). However, the evolutionary process and functions of the ABCG2-like gene (ABCG2 paralog and a member of the ABCG2 gene subfamily in birds) remain unknown.

Knowledge of the molecular evolution of gene families is an important prerequisite for understanding the functional differences among protein family members and predicting new functions for their paralogous and orthologous genes. Therefore, this study aimed to analyze the genetic structure, genome duplication characteristics, chromosome distribution, phylogeny and other aspects of the bird ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes and to therefore determine the potential changes in and connections between these genes and their functions in birds. Overall, the present study can provide theoretical references for studying not only the trait regulatory functions of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes but also the evolution aspects of the ABC transporter superfamily in birds.

Results

ABCG2 gene subfamilies in different birds

Through BLAST, 77 ABCG2 and ABCG2-like nucleic acid sequences, including 41 of the ABCG2 gene and 36 of the ABCG2-like gene, were obtained from the genomes of 41 bird belonging to 33 families. Combined with the current NCBI nomenclature system, the BLAST results suggested that only two ABCG2 gene subfamily members, i.e., the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes, exist in birds. However, the ABCG2-like genes were lost in Coturnix japonica (Phasianidae), Meleagris gallopavo (Phasianidae), Gallus gallus (Phasianidae), Mesitornis unicolor (Mesitornithidae) and Manacus vitellinus (Pipridae) (Additional file 1, Tables S1 and S2).

Phylogenetic analysis

A maximum likelihood (ML) phylogenetic analysis (Fig. 1) was performed using the nucleic acid sequences (coding sequences) of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes, which were obtained from all birds (Additional file 1, Table S1) and outgroup species (Additional file 2, Table S3). The results supported the classification of the two gene subfamily members (ABCG2 and ABCG2-like) in the 41 birds. However, phylogenetic trees also clustered the ABCG2 genes of 3 birds (Coturnix japonica, Meleagris gallopavo and Gallus gallus) were clustered in the clades of ABCG2-like genes (species marked with red circles in Fig. 1), suggesting that these three ABCG2 genes and ABCG2-like genes have high homology. Although the clade nodes between the two subfamilies and between different species did not always exhibit sufficient phylogenetic resolution (the bootstrap support for some nodes was less than 50%), we could still deduce that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes of birds likely originated from a common ancestor. We subsequently consulted the comprehensive bird phylogeny described by Prum et al. [29] and found that the phylogenetic relationships among ABCG2-like genes were closer to the comprehensive phylogenetic relationship among birds than those among ABCG2 genes. Therefore, we speculated that the ABCG2-like genes were more conserved than the ABCG2 genes during the evolution of birds.

Fig. 1
figure1

Evolutionary relationships of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds. The phylogenetic tree was constructed with the ML method using MEGA7 software. The numbers on the nodes represent the bootstrap support. The outermost ring contains the Latin name and gene name of the birds and outgroup species, and ABCG2-like is abbreviated as ABCG2-L. The red circles indicate the birds whose ABCG2-like genes were lost

Selection pressure analysis

Using the CodeML program, positive and purifying selection analyses of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like gene sequences were performed for the various birds, as shown in Tables 1 and 2. In the M0 (one ratio) model, the ω values of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were 0.25797 and 0.23234, respectively (Tables 1 and 2), and these values were far less than 1. Therefore, the M0 model provides no direct evidence that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were affected by positive selection pressure. Positive selection analysis was used to identify positive selection sites (Fig. 2) [30].

Table 1 Selection pressure analysis of sites in the coding region of ABCG2 genes
Table 2 Selection pressure analysis of sites in the coding region of ABCG2-like genes
Fig. 2
figure2

Sliding window plot of the dN/dS ratios obtained for the (a) ABCG2 and (b) ABCG2-like genes. The value corresponding to neutral selection (dN/dS = 1) is indicated by the red dotted line

A likelihood ratio test (LRT) was performed to compare the M1a (nearly neutral) and M2a (positive selection) models (Additional file 3, Tables S4 and S5). The statistical values (ΔlnL) of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were 25 (p < 0.01) and 13 (p < 0.01), respectively. Therefore, the M2a model was superior to the M1a model.

In addition, the LRT comparison of the M7 (beta) and M8 (beta and ω > 1) models revealed a significant difference between the models. The ΔlnL values of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were 43 (p < 0.01) and 22 (p < 0.01), respectively (Additional file 3, Tables S4 and S5), and the M8 model was superior to the M7 model.

Based on the M2a model, a total of 13 positive selection sites (in codons) were found for the ABCG2 genes (Additional file 4, Tables S6 and S7). Among these sites, three were statistically significant (p < 0.05), and two sites were extremely significant (p < 0.01). Moreover, a total of 16 positive selection sites were found for the ABCG2-like genes (Additional file 4, Tables S6 and S7), and only three of these were statistically significant (p < 0.05).

However, we found a total of 56 positive selection sites in the coding regions of the ABCG2 genes (Additional file 4, Tables S6 and S7) with the M8 model. Six positive selection sites were statistically significant (p < 0.05), and eight positive selection sites were extremely significant (p < 0.01). Furthermore, a total of 36 positive selection sites were found for the ABCG2-like genes (Additional file 4, Tables S6 and Table S7). Among these, two were statistically significant positive selection sites (p < 0.05), and two were extremely significant positive selection sites (p < 0.01). Moreover, the analysis of the M3 model revealed that approximately 95.7 and 98.5% of the sites in the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like gene sequences, respectively, were affected by negative selection.

These results showed that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were mainly subject to strong purifying selection, but the ABCG2 genes were affected by stronger positive selection pressure in birds compared with the ABCG2-like genes. Additionally, the ABCG2-like gene sequences were more conserved than the ABCG2 gene sequences in birds.

Chromosomal synteny analysis of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes

A chromosomal synteny analysis was performed with several representative birds using the Genome Data Viewer (GDV) from the NCBI and Ensembl 94. Conserved synteny dot plots showed that the neighborhood regions of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in seven birds were similar to those in Homo sapiens, Alligator sinensis, Chrysemys picta bellii and Xenopus laevis (Fig. 3). Conserved chromosome segments (Fig. 3) were found in Anas platyrhynchos and Taeniopygia guttata, and the conserved chromosome segments are ABCG2-PKD2-SPP1-IBSP (chromosome 4) and BLOC1S2-ABCG2-like-PKD2L1-SCD (chromosome 6). Conserved chromosome segments (Fig. 3) were also found in Gallus gallus, Meleagris gallopavo and Coturnix japonica (deletion of the ABCG2-like gene occurred in the genomes of Gallus gallus, Meleagris gallopavo and Coturnix japonica), and these conserved chromosome segments are PKD2-SPP1-IBSP (chromosome 4) and BLOC1S2-ABCG2-PKD2L1-SCD (chromosome 6). These results reflected the overall evolutionary conservation of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds. However, deletion of the ABCG2 gene occurred in some birds, which was contrary to the characteristics of genome conservation, and the complex reasons for this result would be worth further study. Moreover, the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were found adjacent to each other on the same chromosome in Chrysemys picta bellii. In addition, only a single copy of the ABCG2 gene was found in the Xenopus laevis genome.

Fig. 3
figure3

Genomically conserved synteny analysis of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes. Different genes are represented by colored pentagons. The gene names are shown on the top of the pentagons, and pentagons with the same color represent members of the same gene family. We arranged the order of the pentagons based on the relative positions of genes in the chromosome or scaffold

Exon/intron structure and splicing site analysis

In the current study, the exon/intron structures of each ABCG2 or ABCG2-like gene sequence were obtained from the 41 birds and outgroup species (Figs. 4b and 5b). An exon/intron structure analysis showed that the CDSs were interrupted by several introns. Compared with Homo sapiens and Mus caroli, birds harbored significantly shorter ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes.

Fig. 4
figure4

Exon structure (5′-3′) and splicing sites of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in each birds and outgroup species in series or sections. The numbers in the boxes are the nucleotide lengths. The order of each exon is indicated in the first row. The red exon is conserved in all bird ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes. The size of each exon is not drawn to scale

Fig. 5
figure5

Phylogenetic analysis (a), gene exons/intron structure (b) and protein domain structures (c) of the ABCG2 genes in birds. The phylogenetic tree of the amino acid sequences was constructed with the NJ method using MEGA7 software. The numbers on the nodes represent the bootstrap support. The red boxes and black lines (drawn to scale, as shown in the figure below) represent the exons and introns, respectively. The protein motifs are shown as colored boxes based on the MEME identification

According to the structure analysis, 22 ABCG2 gene sequences and 24 ABCG2-like gene sequences were composed of 15 exons, whereas 13 ABCG2 gene sequences and 15 ABCG2-like gene sequences were composed of 16 exons. Only two ABCG2-like genes were composed of 17 exons, and one ABCG2 gene was composed of 14 exons (Figs. 5b and 6b). Most members of each individual subfamily contained more than seven similar and conserved exons. The exons marked in red, as shown in Fig. 4, were conserved in length and consisted of 60, 115, 153, 158, 152, 83, 90, 125, 155, 156 and 90 nucleotides. However, the lengths of the first and last exons of the CDSs of the ABCG2 or ABCG2-like genes varied significantly among birds (p < 0.05), and these exons were identified in the ABCG2 or ABCG2-like gene sequences of all the studied birds, Homo sapiens, Mus caroli and Danio rerio. At least five conserved exons were copied in series or piecewise in the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes, supporting the hypothesis of a common ancestral relationship among ABCG2 and ABCG-like gene sequences (Fig. 4).

Fig. 6
figure6

Phylogenetic analysis (a), gene exons/intron structure (b) structures and protein domain structures (c) of the ABCG2-like genes in birds. The phylogenetic tree of the amino acid sequences was constructed with the NJ method using MEGA7 software. The numbers on the nodes represent the bootstrap support. The red boxes and black lines (drawn to scale) represent the exons and introns, respectively. The protein motifs are shown as colored boxes based on the MEME identification

Amino acid sequence domain analysis of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins

The protein domains of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like protein sequences from the 41 birds and outgroup species were predicted in this study (Figs. 5c and 6c). A total of 40 motifs, named 1–40, were identified in the full-length amino acid sequences of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins (Additional file 5).

Most amino acid sequences of the ABCG2 gene subfamily shared more than 12 common motifs, which indicated that both ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins were highly conserved (Figs. 5c and 6c). However, some small differences were found in the N-terminal region. Most ABCG2-like amino acid sequences of birds harbored a specific motif (named 14 in Figs. 5c and 6c), whereas the ABCG2 amino acid sequences of birds did not have this motif in the N-terminal region.

In addition, the ABCG2 protein sequences of Anas platyrhynchos and Anser cygnoides domesticus contain seven and eight transmembrane helical structures, respectively, and the ABCG2 protein sequences of Parus major contain four transmembrane helical structures. The amino acid sequences of the ABCG2 genes in other birds have five transmembrane helices, and those of ABCG2-like genes in all birds also have five transmembrane helices (Additional file 6). In summary, with the exception of the ABCG2 amino acid sequences of Anas platyrhynchos, Anser cygnoides domesticus and Parus major, the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences of most birds have similar transmembrane structures. Moreover, these sequences have transmembrane structures similar to those of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins of some amphibians.

These results suggested that ABCG2 proteins are homologous to ABCG2-like proteins and that those in the same subgroup might have similar functions. However, functional differences between the two proteins cannot be excluded. Although the function of these conserved motifs has not been elucidated, some of the motifs might determine differences in the transport functions of the two proteins.

Phosphorylation site analysis of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes

The potential serine (S), threonine (T), and tyrosine (Y) phosphorylation sites (Additional file 7, Table S8) in the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like protein sequences of the 41 birds were predicted. Approximately 11, 6 and 17% of the S, T and Y residues, respectively, in the ABCG2 amino acid sequences were predicted as phosphorylated sites, and approximately 11, 11 and 13% of the S, T and Y residues, respectively, in the ABCG2-like protein sequences were predicted as phosphorylated sites.

The number of S phosphorylation sites in the ABCG2 protein varied greatly among the different studied birds. Similar results were also obtained for the ABCG2-like protein; however, compared with the number of S sites in ABCG2 proteins, that in the ABCG2-like proteins was less variable across the birds. According to the results (Additional file 8), all S residues were concentrated in the NBD region of the amino acid sequence, and a small number of phosphorylation sites were located in the TMD regions. Compared with the ABCG2 protein, the ABCG2-like protein contained more phosphorylation sites in the NBD region (Additional file 8). In terms of the total number of phosphorylation sites, we found that the TMD regions of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins were highly conserved. The differences in the number and distribution of phosphorylation sites between ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences might be related to their functions.

Gene expression patterns in Anas platyrhynchos and conversion analysis

To establish the occurrence of gene conversion between paralogs, the nucleotide sequences of the ABCG2 gene subfamily in some birds and outgroup species were analyzed (Additional file 1, Table S8) using GENECONV and SIMPLOT. The results from GENECONV showed no clear evidence of gene conversion events during the evolutionary process of birds, and no significant evidence demonstrates genetic conversion between the ABCG2 gene of Gallus gallus and the ABCG2-like gene of Anas platyrhynchos. SIMPLOT also showed high shared sequence identity between the paralogs in the birds and outgroup species, and the results provided no clear evidence of gene conversion (Additional file 9).

Data on the expression of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in mallards were obtained from duckbase (http://duckbase.org/rnaseqExpression; Additional file 10). The expression levels of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were highest in the spleen and liver, respectively, whereas the ABCG2 gene was barely expressed in some tissues in mallards (Fig. 7). The expression patterns of these two genes were significantly different in mallard.

Fig. 7
figure7

Gene expression patterns of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in mallards

Discussion

As an important transmembrane transporter protein, Zhou et al. [31] found that increasing the expression of the ABCG2 transport protein during the process of red blood cell maturation can reduce the level of intracellular protoporphyrin IX. Although the ABCG2 gene has been investigated in various studies, the evolutionary process of the ABCG2 gene subfamily members and the functional differences in this gene among birds have never been studied. In the present study, phylogenetic methods and comparative genomics were used to investigate the molecular evolution characteristics of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds. After an extensive database statistical analysis, ABCG2 subfamily genes were found to be widely present in chordates and vertebrates. Overall, ABCG2 or ABCG2-like genes were found in 41 birds, and ABCG2-like genes were lost in only five birds.

Origin, duplication events and conversion of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds

The genomic structure of birds is relatively evolutionarily stable in evolution [32], and chromosomes 1–10 and Z are the ancestors of almost all chromosomes in birds [33]. Moreover, two rounds (2R) of genome duplication occurred during the early diversification of chordates and vertebrates [34, 35], which provides a theoretical basis for studying the evolution of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds.

Based on a chromosomal synteny analysis (Fig. 3), ABCG2 or ABCG2-like genes share similar gene neighborhoods in birds (including early birds), Alligator sinensis and Xenopus laevis. Furthermore, two members of the ABCG2 gene subfamily were adjacent to each other in Chrysemys picta bellii and shared similar chromosomal neighborhoods with the ABCG2 gene of birds. First, these results showed highly conserved chromosomal synteny in the neighborhood regions of ABCG2 or ABCG2-like genes in birds. Moreover, these results confirmed that the characteristics of ancestral chromosomes were highly conserved and exhibit low segment recombination rates in birds [33, 36]. Although the NCBI database did not specify which chromosome in Chrysemys picta bellii harbored the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes, Matusda Y et al. [37] found that chromosome 4 of birds is highly homologous with chromosome 4 of turtles (particularly between chickens and soft-shelled turtles). Chromosome 4 is very old in bird genomes and can be characterized by an early origin and strong evolutionary conservatism [38]. Based on the above-described results, we hypothesized that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in Chrysemys picta bellii are also located on chromosome 4. We also assumed that the ancestors of the ABCG2 gene subfamily members existed on chromosome 4 or the ancestor of chromosome 4 for a long time during the evolutionary process (Fig. 3), and this assumption is supported by the results from a phylogenetic analysis.

We also found that even more ABCG2 gene subfamily members were located on the same chromosome in some fishes (Additional file 11). For example, the ABCG2 gene and multiple ABCG2-like genes were located on chromosome 25 in Astyanax mexicanus, which suggested that multiple members of the ABCG2 gene subfamily already existed in the same chromosome in early chordates. However, the evolutionary connection between the chromosome in fishes and that in amphibians remains unclear, and we can trace the origin of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes back only to amphibians. We hypothesize that during the evolution of birds from fishes, most members (or multiple copies of a single member) of the ABCG2 gene subfamily were lost, and ultimately, only two ABCG2 gene subfamily members were retained in birds. Moreover, only one copy of the ABCG2 gene in frog genomes is located on chromosome 1. These findings produce an unusual situation. The reasons for this phenomenon are very complicated, and no clear conclusion has been reached. Some studies have suggested that chromosome fusion occurred during the process of speciation in frogs [39], which might have caused the deletion of ABCG2 gene subfamily members in frogs. These findings provides a reference for explaining the large number of deletions of ABCG2 gene subfamily members during the evolution of birds from fishes.

Some of the ABCG2-like genes in birds are located on chromosome 6. ABCG2-like neighborhoods similar to those in birds have been found in some alligator genomes (Fig. 3). Based on the results from the phylogenetic and chromosomal synteny analyses, we hypothesized that the presence of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes on different chromosomes could be traced back to either after the differentiation of turtle and birds or after the 2R WGD event.

We also found that one or more members of the ABCG2 gene subfamily were also located on microchromosomes in some fishes, e.g., two ABCG2-like genes are located on the LG5 chromosome (Additional file 11). Some of these members have similar neighborhood segments among bird lineages and amphibians (Additional file 11). Therefore, we speculated that multiple microchromosomes containing ABCG2-like genes were further fused into a complete chromosome and that multiple ABCG2-like genes were lost during this process. Ultimately, only one ABCG2-like gene was retained in birds, and this gene did not originate from the WGD event. The timing of the appearance of chromosomes 6 to 9 in birds has not yet been determined [33]. Studying the origin of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes can provide a reference for studying the origin of chromosome 6 in birds.

The current study provides no clear evidence of genetic conversion between ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes (Additional file 9), which supports the hypothesis of an independent origin of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes. Olsen et al. [22] found that the ABCG2-PKD2-SPP1 segment was located in a QTL. In the present study, the above segment was also found in some birds. Therefore, it can be speculated that the ABCG2 gene controls similar quantitative traits in birds.

Influence of positive and purifying selection on the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds

A selection pressure analysis of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes showed that both genes were more affected by purifying selection than by positive selection pressure. These results further supported the hypothesis that both ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes are highly conserved in birds. We also inferred that both ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes have some similar functions but exhibit some differences, e.g., regulation of some quantitative traits. The selection pressure sites were mostly concentrated at the N terminus (NBD region), which also indicated a difference in the N terminus between the two genes that might affect their function. Compared with the ABCG2-like genes, the ABCG2 genes were under stronger positive selection pressure. Therefore, the ABCG2 gene was more evolutionarily active. This finding motivates studies of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like gene deletions in some birds.

Gene and protein structures of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds and functional differences between these genes during evolution

An exon/intron structure analysis can provide valuable information on duplication events within gene families that occurred during eukaryotic evolution, and the gain and loss of introns reflect positive or negative correlations with the CDS evolutionary rate [40]. In addition, an exon/intron structure analysis provides a theoretical reference for exploring the functional differences in gene families. Based on the gene structure analysis, all ABCG2 or ABCG2-like genes, with the exception of the Balearica regulorum gibbericeps ABCG2 gene, contained more than 15 exons in their CDSs (Figs. 5 and 6). A sequence length of more than seven exons was conserved in birds (Fig. 7). However, birds contained much shorter introns than other outgroup species (Figs. 5 and 6), which suggests that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes have similar functions. We thus conclude that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes perform unique functions in birds.

Through an analysis of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like protein domains, one additional motif was found in the N terminus of ABCG2-like (Figs. 5 and 6; Additional file 5), and this motif could be responsible for the functional differences between the two genes. However, more than 12 similar motifs were found to exist in the whole proteins of various birds (Figs. 5 and 6; Additional file 5), supporting the notion of strong conservation and similarity among ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins, and the analysis also revealed some inaccurate gene annotations. A detailed analysis clarified some of the inaccurate annotations, such as ABCG2 of Gallus gallus, Meleagris gallopavo, and Coturnix japonica, which should be ABCG2-like genes based on a phylogenetic analysis of the three species in the same clade. The above gene and protein structural analyses provide evidence for the origin of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes from 2R WGD.

The posttranslational modification of proteins can affect the biochemical properties of proteins and plays an important role in maintaining biological processes in cells. Protein phosphorylation can change the structure and functions of a protein [41]. A protein can have one or more phosphorylation sites, which make the protein structurally diverse. A phosphorylation site analysis of the amino acid sequences based on the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes (Additional files 7 and 8) suggested that the phosphorylation sites were also concentrated in the ATP-binding domain (N terminus) of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins, but there were also certain differences. The number of S and T sites in the ABCG2 gene was significantly larger than that in the ABCG2-like gene, which indicated that the structural differences between ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes at the N terminus might affect the actual functions of these genes in birds.

Expression and function of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes

Studying the expression of gene families in animal tissues can provide a reference for exploring the functional differences between gene families. The expression level of the ABCG2-like gene was significantly higher than that of the ABCG2 gene in most bird tissues (e.g., liver, heart, lung, and kidney; Fig. 7). The ABCG2 gene was almost not expressed in some tissues. We speculated that the ABCG2-like gene might play a more important role than the ABCG2 gene or functionally replace this gene in some tissues of mallards. Alternatively, the ABCG2-like gene replaced the function of the ABCG2 gene in some tissues of mallard. Even though some genomes of birds have lost the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes, we speculated that ABCG2 might be functionally redundant in some birds and that its deletion can thus be tolerated. The expression patterns of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds require further research. Overall, the results of the present study provide new ideas for future studies on the deletion of ABCG2 gene subfamily members throughout the evolutionary process of vertebrates and chordates and on the deletion of ABCG2 or ABCG2-like genes in some birds.

Conclusion

The diversity of the ABCG2 gene subfamily members has declined in birds, and most birds have only retained ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes. Here, we speculated that the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes might have originated from the same ancestral chromosome and that these two genes might have been produced via genome duplication events during the evolution of amphibians to birds. The protein sequences of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes were structurally conserved and homologous, but these sequences were less conserved at the N terminus. These results indicate that the functions of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes are generally similar; however, differences in the N-terminal structure might have led to the functional differences between the two genes in some birds.

Methods

Acquisition and identification of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds

The nucleic acid coding sequences and amino acid sequences used in this study were obtained from NCBI (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/). We used the ABCG2 amino acid sequence of Anas platyrhynchos in a BLASTP search and obtained 41 ABCG2 amino acid sequences and 36 ABCG2-like amino acid sequences from 41 representative birds. All obtained sequences had E-scores less than 0.01. The corresponding nucleic acid sequences were obtained using tblastn [42]. The amino acid sequences identified by BLAST were used in a BLASTX search to ensure that the nucleic acid and amino acid sequences of each ABCG2 and ABCG2-like gene and protein matched each other [43]. We completed all of the sequence searches in August 2018.

Phylogenetic analysis

Nucleic acid sequences (CDSs) were used for the phylogenetic analysis of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in birds. A nucleic acid sequence alignment was performed using Clustal Omega included in MEGA7 (Additional file 12). Revised sequence alignments were then submitted to MEGA7 to select the appropriate DNA evolution model according to our dataset [44]. Here, we found that the nucleic acid sequence group of the ABCG2 gene subfamily followed a K2 + G + I model.

MEGA7 software was used to construct a bootstrap (1000 replicate) tree [45] of the nucleic acid sequences, and the ML method was used in the phylogenetic analysis. The ML search was started with the tree generated using BIONJ [46], and the optimal tree was determined through a heuristic search using the nearest-neighbor interchange (NNI) algorithm [43].

Selective pressure analysis

In the selective pressure analysis, we obtained values of omega (nonsynonymous/synonymous replacement rate ratio, dN/dS) to analyze the evolutionary selection pressure at the molecular level. The variable omega (ω) intuitively reflects the evolutionary trend of organisms at the codon level, and omega> 1, omega = 1 and omega< 1 represent genes subjected to positive selection, neutral selection and negative selection (purification selection) during evolution, respectively [47].

The ω values were calculated using the CodeML program in the PAML 4.9 package [48]. We selected the M0, M1a, M2a, M3, M7 and M8 models (site models) [49, 50] for the following reasons: (1) the M0 model allows uniform selection pressure between different sites in a sequence, and the M1a, M7, and M8 models do not allow sites with ω > 1; (2) the M3 model assumes variable selection pressure between sites; and (3) the M2a and M8 models allow sites with ω > 1 [51]. With LRTs, we compared three groups (M1a versus M2, M0 versus M3 [52,53,54,55], and M7 versus M8 [51]) to infer the most suitable model.

We then used M2a and M8 to identify the positive selection sites. The Bayes empirical Bayes (BEB) calculation method was adopted to identify the positive selection sites, and the posterior probability (PP) of these sites was analyzed [56]. We considered only positive sites with a PP > 95%.

Sequence analysis

First, we used GSDS online analysis software (http://gsds.cbi.pku.edu.cn/) [57] to analyze the exon/intron structure and exon distribution patterns of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes. To study the conserved motifs of ABCG2 and ABCG2-like proteins, MEME online analysis software (http://meme.nbcr.net/meme/intro.html) was used [58] to predict protein structural domains. The optimized parameters of MEME were as follows: maximum number of motifs, 40 [59]; optimal motif width, 10–100 residues [59], and optimal width of each motif, 10–100 residues [59]. TMHMM software (http://www.cbs.dtu.dk/services/TMHMM/) was used to predict the transmembrane structure domain of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences [60]. The ABCG2 and ABCG2-like protein sequence phosphorylation sites were predicted using the online program KinasePhos 2.0 (http://kinasephos2.mbc.nctu.edu.tw/) [61] with the default parameters. The aligned sequences were then examined for possible gene conversion events by constructing a sliding window genetic diversity plot (SIMPLOT 3.5.1) [62]. GENECONV 1.8 [63] software was used for conversion analysis using the default parameters and a global segment p value (p < 0.05) corrected with 10,000 pseudoreplicates.

Availability of data and materials

All data and materials are shown within the manuscript or additional files. These data and materials are fully available without restriction.

Abbreviations

ABC:

ATP-binding cassette

ABCG2:

ATP-binding cassette subfamily G member 2

ABCG2-L:

ATP-binding cassette subfamily G member 2-like

BCRP:

breast cancer resistance protein

BEB:

Bayes empirical Bayes

CDS:

coding sequence

dN:

nonsynonymous

dS:

synonymous

GDV:

Genome Data Viewer

LECA:

last eukaryotic common ancestor

LRT:

likelihood ratio test

ML:

maximum likelihood

NBD:

nucleotide-binding domain

NCBI:

National Center for Biotechnology Information

NNI:

nearest-neighbor interchange

QTL:

quantitative trait locus

PP:

posterior probability

S:

serine

T:

threonine

TMD:

transmembrane domain

WGD:

whole-genome duplication

Y:

tyrosine

2R:

two rounds

ω:

omega

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Acknowledgments

Not applicable.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31872345), the Key Technology Support Program of Sichuan Province (2016NYZ0044), the China Agricultural Research System (CARS-43-6), and the National Key R&D Program of China (2018YFD0501503–3). The funding bodies played no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and in writing the manuscript.

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The original idea for this study was conceived by HL. Together, HL and SM designed the experimental methods. SM collected materials and studied. Finally, the manuscript was written by SM and edited by WS, AM, YX, FP, YL, CH, LB and HH. All the authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hehe Liu.

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Supplementary information

Additional file 1: Table S1.

GenBank numbers of the bird ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences obtained in our study. Table S2 GenBank numbers of the bird ABCG2 and ABCG2-like nucleic acid sequences obtained in our study.

Additional file 2: Table S3.

Nucleic acid sequences GenBank numbers of the ABCG2 gene subfamily members in outgroup species used in the phylogenetic analysis. Table S8 Nucleic acid sequences GenBank numbers of the outgroup ABCG2 gene subfamily member nucleic acid sequences used in the conversion analysis.

Additional file 3: Table S4.

Likelihood ratio test statistics for evaluation of model fit in ABCG2 gene. Table S5 Likelihood ratio test statistics for evaluation of model fit in ABCG2-like gene.

Additional file 4: Table S6.

Positive selection sites of ABCG2 gene. Table S7 Positive selection sites of ABCG2-like gene.

Additional file 5.

Consensus sequences of the group specific motifs.

Additional file 6.

Prediction results of the protein transmembrane structure of ABCG2 gene subfamily members.

Additional file 7: Table S7.

Number of phosphorylation sites in the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences of birds.

Additional file 8.

Information on the specific phosphorylation sites in the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like amino acid sequences in birds.

Additional file 9.

Sequence similarity plots of coding and pseudogene sequences of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like gene families in birds and mammals.

Additional file 10.

Expression of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes in mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

Additional file 11.

Chromosomal location of ABCG2 gene subfamily members in some fishes.

Additional file 12.

Multiple sequence alignments of the ABCG2 and ABCG2-like genes with full-length amino acid sequences.

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Ma, S., Liu, H., Sun, W. et al. Molecular evolution of the ATP-binding cassette subfamily G member 2 gene subfamily and its paralogs in birds. BMC Evol Biol 20, 85 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-020-01654-z

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Keywords

  • Birds
  • ABCG2
  • ABCG2-like
  • Gene duplication
  • Gene family evolution
  • Phylogeny
  • Selection pressures
  • Chromosomal synteny