Sequence-structure-function relations of the mosquito leucine-rich repeat immune proteins

The discovery and characterisation of factors governing innate immune responses in insects has driven the elucidation of many immune system components in mammals and other organisms. Focusing on the immune system responses of the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, has uncovered an array of components and mechanisms involved in defence against pathogen infections. Two of these immune factors are LRIM1 and APL1C, which are leucine-rich repeat (LRR) containing proteins that activate complement-like defence responses against malaria parasites. In addition to their LRR domains, these leucine-rich repeat immune (LRIM) proteins share several structural features including signal peptides, patterns of cysteine residues, and coiled-coil domains.

The identification and characterisation of genes related to LRIM1 and APL1C revealed putatively novel innate immune factors and furthered the understanding of their likely molecular functions. Genomic scans using the shared features of LRIM1 and APL1C identified more than 20 LRIM-like genes exhibiting all or most of their sequence features in each of three disease-vector mosquitoes with sequenced genomes: An. gambiae, Aedes aegypti, and Culex quinquefasciatus. Comparative sequence analyses revealed that this family of mosquito LRIM-like genes is characterised by a variable number of 6 to 14 LRRs of different lengths. The "Long" LRIM subfamily, with 10 or more LRRs, and the "Short" LRIMs, with 6 or 7 LRRs, also share the signal peptide, cysteine residue patterning, and coiled-coil sequence features of LRIM1 and APL1C. The "TM" LRIMs have a predicted C-terminal transmembrane region, and the "Coil-less" LRIMs exhibit the characteristic LRIM sequence signatures but lack the C-terminal coiled-coil domains.

The evolutionary plasticity of the LRIM LRR domains may provide templates for diverse recognition properties, while their coiled-coil domains could be involved in the formation of LRIM protein complexes or mediate interactions with other immune proteins. The conserved LRIM cysteine residue patterns are likely to be important for structural fold stability and the formation of protein complexes. These sequence-structure-function relations of mosquito LRIMs will serve to guide the experimental elucidation of their molecular roles in mosquito immunity.