Positive selection in prion protein.
The prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease of humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, involve the aberrant metabolism and accumulation of prion protein PrP. There are three contradictory hypotheses about evolution of prion protein gene PRNP. Population genetic studies have proposed that PRNP could be under balancing selection, strong purifying selection, or mainly positive selection. We made use of the maximum likelihood tests for detection of positive selection at the amino acid level and present availability of PRNP coding sequences to contribute to these disagreements. Positive selection could occur at amino acids residing in active sites, and at amino acids involved in protein-protein interactions. Thus we tested a hypothesis that positive selection at the amino acid level in PrP might have taken place in human and related species from the superordinal group Euarchonta, as well as in bovine and related species from the superordinal clade Laurasiatheria. Our study and the present experimental evidences indicate that positive selection at the amino acid level might have taken place in the PrP signal sequences and conformationally plastic PrP regions, as well as at the protein X binding sites.