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Genes encoding protein kinases tend to evolve slowly over evolutionary time, and only rarely do they appear as recent duplications in sequenced vertebrate genomes. Consequently, it was a surprise to find two families of kinase genes that have greatly and recently expanded in the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) lineage. In contrast to other amniotic genomes (including chicken) that harbor only single copies of p21-activated serine/threonine kinase 3 (PAK3) and proviral integration site 1 (PIM1) genes, the zebra finch genome appeared at first to additionally contain 67 PAK3-like (PAK3L) and 51 PIM1-like (PIM1L) protein kinase genes. An exhaustive analysis of these gene models, however, revealed most to be incomplete, owing to the absence of terminal exons. After reprediction, 31 PAK3L genes and 10 PIM1L genes remain, and all but three are predicted, from the retention of functional sites and open reading frames, to be enzymatically active. PAK3L, but not PIM1L, gene sequences show evidence of recurrent episodes of positive selection, concentrated within structures spatially adjacent to N- and C-terminal protein regions that have been discarded from zebra finch PAK3L genes. At least seven zebra finch PAK3L genes were observed to be expressed in testis, whereas two sequences were found transcribed in the brain, one broadly including the song nuclei and the other in the ventricular zone and in cells resembling Bergmann's glia in the cerebellar Purkinje cell layer. Two PIM1L sequences were also observed to be expressed with broad distributions in the zebra finch brain, one in both the ventricular zone and the cerebellum and apparently associated with glial cells and the other showing neuronal cell expression and marked enrichment in midbrain/thalamic nuclei. These expression patterns do not correlate with zebra finch-specific features such as vocal learning. Nevertheless, our results show how ancient and conserved intracellular signaling molecules can be co-opted, following duplication, thereby resulting in lineage-specific functions, presumably affecting the zebra finch testis and brain.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biol Evol

Publication Date





1923 - 1934


Animals, Base Sequence, Brain, Evolution, Molecular, Finches, Gene Expression Regulation, Humans, In Situ Hybridization, Male, Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, Models, Molecular, Molecular Sequence Data, Phylogeny, Protein Conformation, Sequence Alignment, p21-Activated Kinases