Aspartic proteinases form a widely distributed protein superfamily, including cathepsin D, cathepsin E, pepsins, renin, BACE and napsin. Human napsin genes are located on human chromosome 19q13, which comprises napsin A and napsin B. Napsin B has been annotated as a pseudogene because it lacks an in-frame stop codon; its nascent chains are cotranslationally degraded. Until recently, there have been no studies concerning the molecular evolution of the napsin protein family in the human genome. In the present study, we investigated the evolution and gene organization of the napsin protein family. Napsin B orthologs are primarily distributed in primates, while napsin A orthologs are the only napsin genes in other species. The corresponding regions of napsin B in the available sequences from primate species contain an in-frame stop codon at a position equivalent to that of human napsin A. In addition, a rare single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) that creates a proper stop codon in human napsin B was identified using HapMap populations. Recombinant protein expression and three-dimensional comparative modeling revealed that napsin B exhibits residual activity toward synthetic aspartic protease substrates compared with napsin A, presumably through a napsin B-specific Arg287 residue. Thus, napsin B was duplicated from napsin A during the early stages of primate evolution, and the subsequent loss of napsin B function during primate evolution reflected ongoing human-specific napsin B pseudogenization.
- Gene duplication
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