PloS one

Structural and functional evolution of the trace amine-associated receptors TAAR3, TAAR4 and TAAR5 in primates.

PMID 20559446


The family of trace amine-associated receptors (TAAR) comprises 9 mammalian TAAR subtypes, with intact gene and pseudogene numbers differing considerably even between closely related species. To date the best characterized subtype is TAAR1, which activates the G(s) protein/adenylyl cyclase pathway upon stimulation by trace amines and psychoactive substances like MDMA or LSD. Recently, chemosensory function involving recognition of volatile amines was proposed for murine TAAR3, TAAR4 and TAAR5. Humans can smell volatile amines despite carrying open reading frame (ORF) disruptions in TAAR3 and TAAR4. Therefore, we set out to study the functional and structural evolution of these genes with a special focus on primates. Functional analyses showed that ligands activating the murine TAAR3, TAAR4 and TAAR5 do not activate intact primate and mammalian orthologs, although they evolve under purifying selection and hence must be functional. We also find little evidence for positive selection that could explain the functional differences between mouse and other mammals. Our findings rather suggest that the previously identified volatile amine TAAR3-5 agonists reflect the high agonist promiscuity of TAAR, and that the ligands driving purifying selection of these TAAR in mouse and other mammals still await discovery. More generally, our study points out how analyses in an evolutionary context can help to interpret functional data generated in single species.