Episodic evolution of growth hormone in primates and emergence of the species specificity of human growth hormone receptor

J. C. Liu, K. D. Makova, R. M. Adkins, S. Gibson, W. H. Li

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63 Scopus citations


Growth hormone (GH) evolution is very conservative among mammals, except for primates and ruminant artiodactyls. In fact, most known mammalian GH sequences differ from the inferred ancestral mammalian sequence by only a few amino acids. In contrast, the human GH sequence differs from the inferred ancestral sequence by 59 amino acids. However, it is not known when this rapid evolution of GH occurred during primate evolution or whether it was due to positive selection. Also, human growth hormone receptor (GHR) displays species specificity; i.e., it can interact only with human (or rhesus monkey) GH, not with nonprimate GHs. The species specificity of human GHR is largely due to the Leu→Arg change at position 43, and it has been hypothesized that this change must have been preceded by the His→Asp change at position 171 of GH. Is this hypothesis true? And when did these changes occur? To address the above issues, we sequenced GH and GHR genes in prosimians and simians. Our data supported the above hypothesis and revealed that the species specificity of human GHR actually emerged in the common ancestor of Old World primates, but the transitional phase still persists in New World monkeys. Our data showed that the rapid evolution of primate GH occurred during a relatively short period (in the common ancestor of higher primates) and that the rate of change was especially high at functionally important sites, suggesting positive selection. However, the nonsynonymous rate/synonymous rate ratio at these sites was <1, so relaxation of purifying selection might have played a role in the rapid evolution of the GH gene in simians, possibly as a result of multiple gene duplications. Similar to GH, GHR displayed an accelerated rate of evolution in primates. Our data revealed proportionally more amino acid replacements at the functionally important sites in both GH and GHR in simians but, surprisingly, showed few coincidental replacements of amino acids forming the same intermolecular contacts between the two proteins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-953
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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