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Parasitism as the main factor shaping peptide vocabularies in current organisms


Self/non-self-discrimination by vertebrate immune systems is based on the recognition of the presence of peptides in proteins of a parasite that are not contained in the proteins of a host. Therefore, a reduction of the number of ‘words’ in its own peptide vocabulary could be an efficient evolutionary strategy of parasites for escaping recognition. Here, we compared peptide vocabularies of 30 endoparasitic and 17 free-living unicellular organisms and also eight multicellular parasitic and 16 multicellular free-living organisms. We found that both unicellular and multicellular parasites used a significantly lower number of different pentapeptides than free-living controls. Impoverished pentapeptide vocabularies in parasites were observed across all five clades that contain both the parasitic and free-living species. The effect of parasitism on a number of peptides used in an organism's proteins is larger than effects of all other studied factors, including the size of a proteome, the number of encoded proteins, etc. This decrease of pentapeptide diversity was partly compensated for by an increased number of hexapeptides. Our results support the hypothesis of parasitism-associated reduction of peptide vocabulary and suggest that T-cell receptors mostly recognize the five amino acids-long part of peptides that are presented in the groove of major histocompatibility complex molecules.

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*Corresponding author: Division of Biology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Vinicna 7, 128 44, Prague, Czech Republic.
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