The evolution of interferon-tau
Thirty years ago, a novel type I interferon (IFN) was identified by molecular cloning of cDNA libraries constructed from RNA extracted from ovine and bovine pre-implantation embryos. This protein was eventually designated as IFN-tau (IFNT) to highlight its trophoblast-dependent expression. IFNT function is not immune related. Instead, it interacts with the maternal system to initiate the establishment and maintenance of pregnancy. This activity is indispensable for the continuation of pregnancy. Our review will describe how IFNT evolved from other type I IFNs to function in this new capacity. IFNT genes have only been identified in pecoran ruminants within the Artiodactyla order (e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, deer, antelope, giraffe). The ancestral IFNT gene emerged approximately 36 million years ago most likely from rearrangement and/or insertion events that combined an ancestral IFN-omega (IFNW) gene with a trophoblast-specifying promoter/enhancer. Since then, IFNT genes have duplicated, likely through conversion events, and mutations have allowed them to adapt to their new function in concert with the emergence of different species. Multiple IFNT polymorphisms have been identified in cattle, sheep and goats. These genes and gene alleles encode proteins that do not display identical antiviral, antiproliferative and antiluteolytic activities. The need for multiple IFNT genes, numerous alleles and distinct activities remains debatable, but the consensus is that this complexity in IFNT expression and biological activity must be needed to provide the best opportunity for pregnancy to be recognized by the maternal system so that gestation may continue.
Source: The journal of Reproductive Science