An endogenous retroviral envelope syncytin and its cognate receptor identified in the viviparous placental Mabuya lizard.
ABSTRACT: Syncytins are envelope genes from endogenous retroviruses that have been captured during evolution for a function in placentation. They have been found in all placental mammals in which they have been searched, including marsupials. Placental structures are not restricted to mammals but also emerged in some other vertebrates, most frequently in lizards, such as the viviparous Mabuya Scincidae. Here, we performed high-throughput RNA sequencing of a Mabuya placenta transcriptome and screened for the presence of retroviral env genes with a full-length ORF. We identified one such gene, which we named "syncytin-Mab1," that has all the characteristics expected for a syncytin gene. It encodes a membrane-bound envelope protein with fusogenic activity ex vivo, is expressed at the placental level as revealed by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, and is conserved in all Mabuya species tested, spanning over 25 My of evolution. Its cognate receptor, required for its fusogenic activity, was searched for by a screening assay using the GeneBridge4 human/Chinese hamster radiation hybrid panel and found to be the MPZL1 gene, previously identified in mammals as a signal-transducing transmembrane protein involved in cell migration. Together, these results show that syncytin capture is not restricted to placental mammals, but can also take place in the rare nonmammalian vertebrates in which a viviparous placentotrophic mode of reproduction emerged. It suggests that similar molecular tools have been used for the convergent evolution of placentation in independently evolved and highly distant vertebrates.
Project description:Syncytin genes are fusogenic envelope protein (env) genes of retroviral origin that have been captured for a function in placentation. Within rodents, two such genes have previously been identified in the mouse-related clade, allowing a demonstration of their essential role via knockout mice. Here, we searched for similar genes in a second major clade of the Rodentia order, the squirrel-related clade, taking advantage of the complete sequencing of the ground squirrel Ictidomys tridecemlineatus genome. In silico search for env genes with full coding capacity identified several candidate genes with one displaying placenta-specific expression, as revealed by quantitative reverse transcription-PCR analysis of a large panel of tissues. This gene belongs to a degenerate endogenous retroviral element, with recognizable hallmarks of an integrated provirus. Cloning of the gene in an expression vector for ex vivo cell-cell fusion and pseudotype assays demonstrated fusogenicity on a large panel of mammalian cells. In situ hybridization on placenta sections showed specific expression in domains where trophoblast cells fuse into a syncytiotrophoblast at the fetomaternal interface, consistent with a role in syncytium formation. Finally, we show that the gene is conserved among the tribe Marmotini, thus dating its capture back to about at least 25 million years ago, with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of fusogenic activity. This gene that we named syncytin-Mar1 is distinct from all seven Syncytin genes identified to date in eutherian mammals and is likely to be a major effector of placentation in its related clade. Importance: Syncytin genes are fusogenic envelope genes of retroviral origin, ancestrally captured for a function in placentation. Within rodents, two such genes had been previously identified in the mouse-related clade. Here, in the squirrel-related rodent clade, we identified the envelope gene of an endogenous retrovirus with all the features of a Syncytin: it is specifically expressed in the placenta of the woodchuck Marmota monax, at the level of cells fusing into a syncytium; it can trigger cell-cell and virus-cell fusion ex vivo; and it has been conserved for >25 million years of evolution, suggesting an essential role in its host physiology. Remarkably, syncytin-Mar1 is unrelated to all other Syncytin genes identified thus far in mammals (primates, muroids, carnivores, and ruminants). These results extend the range of retroviral envelope gene "domestication" in mammals and show that these events occurred independently, on multiple occasions during evolution to improve placental development in a process of convergent evolution.
Project description:Syncytins are genes of retroviral origin captured by eutherian mammals, with a role in placentation. Here we show that some marsupials-which are the closest living relatives to eutherian mammals, although they diverged from the latter ?190 Mya-also possess a syncytin gene. The gene identified in the South American marsupial opossum and dubbed syncytin-Opo1 has all of the characteristic features of a bona fide syncytin gene: It is fusogenic in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay; it is specifically expressed in the short-lived placenta at the level of the syncytial feto-maternal interface; and it is conserved in a functional state in a series of Monodelphis species. We further identify a nonfusogenic retroviral envelope gene that has been conserved for >80 My of evolution among all marsupials (including the opossum and the Australian tammar wallaby), with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of a canonical immunosuppressive domain, but with only limited expression in the placenta. This unusual captured gene, together with a third class of envelope genes from recently endogenized retroviruses-displaying strong expression in the uterine glands where retroviral particles can be detected-plausibly correspond to the different evolutionary statuses of a captured retroviral envelope gene, with only syncytin-Opo1 being the present-day bona fide syncytin active in the opossum and related species. This study would accordingly recapitulate the natural history of syncytin exaptation and evolution in a single species, and definitely extends the presence of such genes to all major placental mammalian clades.
Project description:Syncytins are fusogenic envelope (env) genes of retroviral origin that have been captured for a function in placentation. Syncytins have been identified in Euarchontoglires (primates, rodents, Leporidae) and Laurasiatheria (Carnivora, ruminants) placental mammals. Here, we searched for similar genes in species that retained characteristic features of primitive mammals, namely the Malagasy and mainland African Tenrecidae. They belong to the superorder Afrotheria, an early lineage that diverged from Euarchotonglires and Laurasiatheria 100 Mya, during the Cretaceous terrestrial revolution. An in silico search for env genes with full coding capacity within a Tenrecidae genome identified several candidates, with one displaying placenta-specific expression as revealed by RT-PCR analysis of a large panel of Setifer setosus tissues. Cloning of this endogenous retroviral env gene demonstrated fusogenicity in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay on a panel of mammalian cells. Refined analysis of placental architecture and ultrastructure combined with in situ hybridization demonstrated specific expression of the gene in multinucleate cellular masses and layers at the materno-fetal interface, consistent with a role in syncytium formation. This gene, which we named "syncytin-Ten1," is conserved among Tenrecidae, with evidence of purifying selection and conservation of fusogenic activity. To our knowledge, it is the first syncytin identified to date within the ancestrally diverged Afrotheria superorder.
Project description:Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted for a role in placentation. They promote cell-cell fusion and are involved in the formation of a syncytium layer--the syncytiotrophoblast--at the materno-fetal interface. They were captured independently in eutherian mammals, and knockout mice demonstrated that they are absolutely required for placenta formation and embryo survival. Here we provide evidence that these "necessary" genes acquired "by chance" have a definite lifetime with diverse fates depending on the animal lineage, being both gained and lost in the course of evolution. Analysis of a retroviral envelope gene, the envV gene, present in primate genomes and belonging to the endogenous retrovirus type V (ERV-V) provirus, shows that this captured gene, which entered the primate lineage >45 million years ago, behaves as a syncytin in Old World monkeys, but lost its canonical fusogenic activity in other primate lineages, including humans. In the Old World monkeys, we show--by in situ analyses and ex vivo assays--that envV is both specifically expressed at the level of the placental syncytiotrophoblast and fusogenic, and that it further displays signs of purifying selection based on analysis of non-synonymous to synonymous substitution rates. We further show that purifying selection still operates in the primate lineages where the gene is no longer fusogenic, indicating that degeneracy of this ancestral syncytin is a slow, lineage-dependent, and multi-step process, in which the fusogenic activity would be the first canonical property of this retroviral envelope gene to be lost.
Project description:Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs) are proviral phases of exogenous retroviruses that have co-evolved with vertebrate genomes for millions of years. Previous studies have identified the envelope (env) protein genes of retroviral origin preferentially expressed in the placenta which suggests a role in placentation based on their membrane fusogenic capacity and therefore they have been named syncytins. Until now, all the characterized syncytins have been associated with three invasive placentation types: the endotheliochorial (Carnivora), the synepitheliochorial (Ruminantia), and the hemochorial placentation (human, mouse) where they play a role in the syncytiotrophoblast formation. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate whether EqERV env RNA is expressed in horse tissues as well and investigate if the horse, possessing an epitheliochorial placenta, has "captured" a common retroviral env gene with syncytin-like properties in placental tissues. Interestingly, although in the equine placenta there is no syncytiotrophoblast layer at the maternal-fetal interface, our results showed that EqERV env RNA is highly expressed at that level, as expected for a candidate syncytin-like gene but with reduced abundance in the other somatic tissues (nearly 30-fold lower) thus suggesting a possible role in the placental tissue. Although the horse is one of the few domestic animals with a sequenced genome, few studies have been conducted about the EqERV and their expression in placental tissue has never been investigated.
Project description:Cell fusions are important to fertilization, placentation, development of skeletal muscle and bone, calcium homeostasis and the immune defense system. Additionally, cell fusions participate in tissue repair and may be important to cancer development and progression. A large number of factors appear to regulate cell fusions, including receptors and ligands, membrane domain organizing proteins, proteases, signaling molecules and fusogenic proteins forming alpha-helical bundles that bring membranes close together. The syncytin family of proteins represent true fusogens and the founding member, syncytin-1, has been documented to be involved in fusions between placental trophoblasts, between cancer cells and between cancer cells and host cells. We review the literature with emphasis on the syncytin family and propose that syncytins may represent universal fusogens in primates and rodents, which work together with a number of other proteins to regulate the cell fusion machinery.
Project description:Syncytin genes are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been exapted for a role in placentation. They are involved in the formation of a syncytial structure (the syncytiotrophoblast) at the fetomaternal interface via their fusogenic activity. The mouse placenta is unique among placental mammals since the fetomaternal interface comprises two syncytiotrophoblast layers (ST-I and ST-II) instead of one, as observed in humans and all other hemochorial placentae. Each layer specifically expresses a distinct mouse syncytin, namely, syncytin-A (SynA) for ST-I and syncytin-B (SynB) for ST-II, which have been shown to be essential to placentogenesis and embryo survival. Their cognate cellular receptors, which are necessary to mediate cell-cell fusion and syncytiotrophoblast formation, are still unknown. By devising a sensitive method that combines a cell-cell fusion assay with the screening of a mouse cDNA library, we succeeded in identifying the glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored membrane protein lymphocyte antigen 6E (Ly6e) as a candidate receptor for SynA. Transfection of cells with the cloned receptor led to their fusion to cells expressing SynA, with no cross-reactive fusion activity with SynB. Knocking down Ly6e greatly reduced SynA-induced cell fusion, thus suggesting that Ly6e is the sole receptor for SynA in vivo Interaction of SynA with Ly6e was further demonstrated by a competition assay using the soluble ectodomain of Ly6e. Finally, reverse transcription-quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) analysis of Ly6e expression on a representative panel of mouse tissues shows that it is significantly expressed in the mouse placenta together with SynA.IMPORTANCE Syncytin genes are envelope genes of endogenous retroviruses, co-opted for a physiological function in placentation. Syncytins are fusogenic proteins that mediate cell-cell fusion by interacting with receptors present on the partner cells. Here, by devising a sensitive in vitro fusion assay that enables the high-throughput screening of normalized cDNA libraries, we identified the long-sought receptor for syncytin-A (SynA), a mouse syncytin responsible for syncytiotrophoblast formation at the maternofetal interface of the mouse placenta. This protein, Ly6e (lymphocyte antigen 6E), is a GPI-anchored membrane protein, and small interfering RNA (siRNA) experiments targeting its deletion as well as a decoy assay using a recombinant soluble receptor show that Ly6e is the necessary and sufficient partner of SynA. Its profile of expression is consistent with a role in both ancestral endogenization of a SynA founder retrovirus and present-day placenta formation. This study provides a powerful general method to identify genes involved in cell-cell fusion processes.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted by the host to mediate a specialized function in placentation. Two of these genes have already been identified in primates, as well as two distinct, non orthologous genes in rodents. RESULTS: Here we identified within the rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus-which belongs to the lagomorpha order- an envelope (env) gene of retroviral origin with the characteristic features of a bona fide syncytin, that we named syncytin-Ory1. An in silico search for full-length env genes with an uninterrupted open reading frame within the rabbit genome first identified two candidate genes that were tested for their specific expression in the placenta by quantitative RT-PCR of RNA isolated from a large set of tissues. This resulted in the identification of an env gene with placenta-specific expression and belonging to a family of endogenous retroelements present at a limited copy number in the rabbit genome. Functional characterization of the identified placenta-expressed env gene after cloning in a CMV-driven expression vector and transient transfection experiments, demonstrated both fusogenic activity in an ex vivo cell-cell fusion assay and infectivity of pseudotypes. The receptor for the rabbit syncytin-Ory1 was found to be the same as that for human syncytin-1, i.e. the previously identified ASCT2 transporter. This was demonstrated by a co-culture fusion assay between hamster A23 cells transduced with an expression vector for ASCT2 and A23 cells transduced with syncytin-Ory1. Finally, in situ hybridization of rabbit placenta sections with a syncytin-Ory1 probe revealed specific expression at the level of the junctional zone between the placental lobe and the maternal decidua, where the invading syncytial fetal tissue contacts the maternal decidua to form the labyrinth, consistent with a role in the formation of the syncytiotrophoblast. The syncytin-Ory1 gene is found in Leporidae but not in Ochotonidae, and should therefore have entered the lagomorpha order 12-30 million years ago. CONCLUSION: The identification of a novel syncytin gene within a third order of mammals displaying syncytiotrophoblast formation during placentation strongly supports the notion that on several occasions retroviral infections have resulted in the independent capture of genes that have been positively selected for a convergent physiological role.
Project description:Syncytins are envelope genes of retroviral origin that have been co-opted for a role in placentation and likely contribute to the remarkable diversity of placental structures. Independent capture events have been identified in primates, rodents, lagomorphs, and carnivores, where they are involved in the formation of a syncytium layer at the fetomaternal interface via trophoblast cell-cell fusion. We searched for similar genes within the suborder Ruminantia where the placenta lacks an extended syncytium layer but displays a heterologous cell-fusion process unique among eutherian mammals. An in silico search for intact envelope genes within the Bos taurus genome identified 18 candidates belonging to five endogenous retrovirus families, with one gene displaying both placenta-specific expression, as assessed by quantitative RT-PCR analyses of a large panel of tissues, and conservation in the Ovis aries genome. Both the bovine and ovine orthologs displayed fusogenic activity by conferring infectivity on retroviral pseudotypes and triggering cell-cell fusion. In situ hybridization of placenta sections revealed specific expression in the trophoblast binucleate cells, consistent with a role in the formation--by heterologous cell fusion with uterine cells--of the trinucleate cells of the cow and the syncytial plaques of the ewe. Finally, we show that this gene, which we named "Syncytin-Rum1," is conserved among 16 representatives of higher ruminants, with evidence for purifying selection and conservation of its fusogenic properties, over 30 millions years of evolution. These data argue for syncytins being a major driving force in the emergence and diversity of the placenta.
Project description:We previously identified suppressyn (SUPYN), a placental protein that negatively regulates the cell fusion essential for trophoblast syncytialization via binding to the trophoblast receptor for syncytin-1, ASCT2, and hypothesized that SUPYN may thereby regulate cell-cell fusion in the placenta. Here, we redefine in vivo SUPYN localization using specific monoclonal antibodies in a rare early placental sample, showing SUPYN localization in villous and extravillous trophoblast subtypes, the decidua and even in placental debris in the maternal vasculature. In human trophoblast cell lines, we show SUPYN alters ASCT2 glycosylation within the secretory pathway and that this binding is associated with inhibition of cell fusion. Using newly-optimized trophoblast isolation protocols that allow tracking of ex vivo cell fusion, we present transcription and translation dynamics of fusion-related proteins over 96?hours in culture and the effects of changes in ambient oxygen levels on these processes. We report converse syncytin-1 and SUPYN transcriptional and translational responses to surrounding oxygen concentrations that suggest both are important in the effects of hypoxia and hyperoxia on placental syncytialization. Our results suggest that SUPYN's anti-fusogenic properties may be exerted at several sites in the maternal body and its dysregulation may be associated with diseases of abnormal placentation.