Sullivan, C., Charette, J., Catchen, J., Lage, C.R., Giasson, G., Postlethwait, J.H., Millard, P.J., and Kim, C.H. (2009) The Gene History of Zebrafish tlr4a and tlr4b Is Predictive of Their Divergent Functions. Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950). 183(9):5896-5908.
Mammalian immune responses to LPS exposure are typified by the robust induction of NF-kappaB and IFN-beta responses largely mediated by TLR4 signal transduction pathways. In contrast to mammals, Tlr4 signal transduction pathways in nontetrapods are not well understood. Comprehensive syntenic and phylogenetic analyses support our hypothesis that zebrafish tlr4a and tlr4b genes are paralogous rather than orthologous to human TLR4. Furthermore, we provide evidence to support our assertion that the in vivo responsiveness of zebrafish to LPS exposure is not mediated by Tlr4a and Tlr4b paralogs because they fail to respond to LPS stimulation in vitro. Zebrafish Tlr4a and Tlr4b paralogs were also unresponsive to heat-killed Escherichia coli and Legionella pneumophila. Using chimeric molecules in which portions of the zebrafish Tlr4 proteins were fused to portions of the mouse TLR4 protein, we show that the lack of responsiveness to LPS was most likely due to the inability of the extracellular portions of zebrafish Tlr4a and Tlr4b to recognize the molecule, rather than to changes in their capacities to transduce signals through their Toll/IL-1 receptor (TIR) domains. Taken together, these findings strongly support the notion that zebrafish tlr4a and tlr4b paralogs have evolved to provide alternative ligand specificities to the Tlr immune defense system in this species. These data demonstrate that intensive examination of gene histories when describing the Tlr proteins of basally diverging vertebrates is required to obtain fuller appreciation of the evolution of their function. These studies provide the first evidence for the functional evolution of a novel Tlr.