Background. Cholesterol homeostasis is maintained through finely tuned mechanisms regulating intestinal absorption, hepatic biosynthesis and secretion as well as plasma clearance. Proprotein convertase subtilisin/ kexin type 9 (PCSK9) is a secreted enzyme of the serine protease family that reduces cellular uptake of plasma low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by promoting LDL receptor (LDL-R) degradation. Species-specific positive selection has been noted in the LDLR promoter, leading to differential expression of LDLR among primates. Whether PCSK9 experienced significant selective pressure to maintain a functional relationship with its target protein, LDL-R, is unknown. Methodology/Principal Findings. We compiled the sequences of the coding regions of PCSK9 from 14 primate species in the clade of Hominoids, Old World monkeys and New World monkeys. To detect selective pressure at the protein level, the ratios of nonsynonymous/synonymous substitution rate (dN/dS) under different evolutionary models were calculated across the phylogerty of PCSK9. Maximum likelihood analyses of dN/dS ratios for the aligned coding region sequences among 14 primate species indicated that PCSK9 was subject to a strong functional constraint (i.e., purifying selection). However, positive selection was noted in the functional carboxyl-terminal (C-terminal) domain in many branches across the phylogeny, especially in the lineage leading to the orangutan. Furthermore, at least five positively selected amino acids were detected in this lineage using the branch-site model A. In a sliding-window analysis, several dN/dS peaks in the C-terminal domaim in both the human and the orangutan branches were noted. Conclusions. These results suggest that among primates, differential selective pressure has shaped evolutionary patterns in the functional domains of PCSK9, an important regulator of cholesterol homeostasis.
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