Conservation and Innovation of APOBEC3A Restriction Functions during Primate Evolution.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Molecular biology and evolution (2016)


LINE-1 (long interspersed element-1) retroelements are the only active autonomous endogenous retroelements in human genomes. Their retrotransposition activity has created close to 50% of the current human genome. Due to the apparent costs of this proliferation, host genomes have evolved multiple mechanisms to curb LINE-1 retrotransposition. Here, we investigate the evolution and function of the LINE-1 restriction factor APOBEC3A, a member of the APOBEC3 cytidine deaminase gene family. We find that APOBEC3A genes have evolved rapidly under diversifying selection in primates, suggesting changes in APOBEC3A have been recurrently selected in a host-pathogen "arms race." Nonetheless, in contrast to previous reports, we find that the LINE-1 restriction activity of APOBEC3A proteins has been strictly conserved throughout simian primate evolution in spite of its pervasive diversifying selection. Based on these results, we conclude that LINE-1s have not driven the rapid evolution of APOBEC3A in primates. In contrast to this conserved LINE-1 restriction, we find that a subset of primate APOBEC3A genes have enhanced antiviral restriction. We trace this gain of antiviral restriction in APOBEC3A to the common ancestor of a subset of Old World monkeys. Thus, APOBEC3A has not only maintained its LINE-1 restriction ability, but also evolved a gain of antiviral specificity against other pathogens. Our findings suggest that while APOBEC3A has evolved to restrict additional pathogens, only those adaptive amino acid changes that leave LINE-1 restriction unperturbed have been tolerated.