Piscidins constitute a family of cationic antimicrobial peptides that are thought to play an important role in the innate immune response of teleosts. On the one hand they show a remarkable diversity, which indicates that they are shaped by positive selection, but on the other hand they are ancient and have specific targets, suggesting that they are constrained by purifying selection. Until now piscidins had only been found in fish species from the superorder Acanthopterygii but we have recently identified a piscidin gene in Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), thus showing that these antimicrobial peptides are not restricted to evolutionarily modern teleosts. Nucleotide diversity was much higher in the regions of the piscidin gene that code for the mature peptide and its pro domain than in the signal peptide. Maximum likelihood analyses with different evolution models revealed that the piscidin gene is under positive selection. Charge or hydrophobicity-changing amino acid substitutions observed in positively selected sites within the mature peptide influence its amphipathic structure and can have a marked effect on its function. This diversification might be associated with adaptation to new habitats or rapidly evolving pathogens.
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