Somatic and germline diversification of a putative immunoreceptor within one phylum: Dscam in arthropods

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Arthropod Dscam, the homologue of the human Down Syndrome cell adhesion molecule, is a receptor used by the nervous and immune systems. Unlike in vertebrates, evolutionary pressure has selected and maintained a vast Dscam diversity of isoforms, known to specifying neuronal identity during the nervous system differentiation. This chapter examines the different modes of Dscam diversification in the context of arthropods’ evolution and that of their immune system, where its role is controversial. In the single Dscam gene of insects and crustaceans, mutually exclusive alternative splicing affects three clusters of duplicated exons encoding the variable parts of the receptor. The Dscam gene produces over 10,000 isoforms. In the more basal arthropods such as centipedes, Dscam diversity results from a combination of many germline genes (over 80) with, in about half of those, the possibility of alternative splicing affecting only one exon cluster. In the even more basal arthropods, such as chelicerates, no splicing possibility is detected, but there exist dozens of germline Dscam genes. Compared to controlling the expression of multiple germline genes, the somatic mutually alternative splicing within a single gene may offer a simplified way of expressing a large Dscam repertoire. Expressed by hemocytes, Dscam is considered a phagocytic receptor but is also encountered in solution. More information is necessary about its binding to pathogens, its role in phagocytosis, its possible role in specifying hemocyte identity, its kinetics of expression, and the regulation of its RNA splicing to understand how its diversity is linked to immunity.




Brites, D., & Du Pasquier, L. (2015). Somatic and germline diversification of a putative immunoreceptor within one phylum: Dscam in arthropods. In Results and Problems in Cell Differentiation (Vol. 57, pp. 131–158). Springer Verlag.

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