Amyloid precursor protein (APP) family members are involved in essential neuronal development including neurite outgrowth, neuronal migration and maturation of synapse and neuromuscular junction. Among the APP gene family members, amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1) is selectively expressed in neurons and has specialized functions during synaptogenesis. Although a potential role for APLP1 in neuronal evolution has been indicated, its precise evolutionary and functional contributions are unknown. This study shows the molecular evolution of the vertebrate APP family based on phylogenetic analysis, while contrasting the evolutionary differences within the APP family. Phylogenetic analysis showed 15 times higher substitution rate that is driven by positive selection at the stem branch of the mammalian APLP1, resulting in dissimilar protein sequences compared to APP/APLP2. Docking simulation identified one positively selected site in APLP1 that alters the heparin-binding site, which could affect its function, and dimerization rate. Furthermore, the evolutionary rate covariation between the mammalian APP family and synaptic adhesion molecules (SAMs) was confirmed, indicating that only APLP1 has evolved to gain synaptic adhesion property. Overall, our results suggest that the enhanced synaptogenesis property of APLP1 as one of the SAMs may have played a role in mammalian brain evolution.
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