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1.  Human-specific CpG “beacons” identify loci associated with human-specific traits and disease 
Epigenetics  2012;7(10):1188-1199.
Regulatory change has long been hypothesized to drive the delineation of the human phenotype from other closely related primates. Here we provide evidence that CpG dinucleotides play a special role in this process. CpGs enable epigenome variability via DNA methylation, and this epigenetic mark functions as a regulatory mechanism. Therefore, species-specific CpGs may influence species-specific regulation. We report non-polymorphic species-specific CpG dinucleotides (termed “CpG beacons”) as a distinct genomic feature associated with CpG island (CGI) evolution, human traits and disease. Using an inter-primate comparison, we identified 21 extreme CpG beacon clusters (≥ 20/kb peaks, empirical p < 1.0 × 10−3) in humans, which include associations with four monogenic developmental and neurological disease related genes (Benjamini-Hochberg corrected p = 6.03 × 10−3). We also demonstrate that beacon-mediated CpG density gain in CGIs correlates with reduced methylation in these species in orthologous CGIs over time, via human, chimpanzee and macaque MeDIP-seq. Therefore mapping into both the genomic and epigenomic space the identified CpG beacon clusters define points of intersection where a substantial two-way interaction between genetic sequence and epigenetic state has occurred. Taken together, our data support a model for CpG beacons to contribute to CGI evolution from genesis to tissue-specific to constitutively active CGIs.
doi:10.4161/epi.22127
PMCID: PMC3469460  PMID: 22968434
epigenetics; epigenomics; CpG islands; gene regulation; evolution; human disease
2.  A Novel System of Polymorphic and Diverse NK Cell Receptors in Primates 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(10):e1000688.
There are two main classes of natural killer (NK) cell receptors in mammals, the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) and the structurally unrelated killer cell lectin-like receptors (KLR). While KIR represent the most diverse group of NK receptors in all primates studied to date, including humans, apes, and Old and New World monkeys, KLR represent the functional equivalent in rodents. Here, we report a first digression from this rule in lemurs, where the KLR (CD94/NKG2) rather than KIR constitute the most diverse group of NK cell receptors. We demonstrate that natural selection contributed to such diversification in lemurs and particularly targeted KLR residues interacting with the peptide presented by MHC class I ligands. We further show that lemurs lack a strict ortholog or functional equivalent of MHC-E, the ligands of non-polymorphic KLR in “higher” primates. Our data support the existence of a hitherto unknown system of polymorphic and diverse NK cell receptors in primates and of combinatorial diversity as a novel mechanism to increase NK cell receptor repertoire.
Author Summary
Most receptors of natural killer (NK) cells interact with highly polymorphic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules and thereby regulate the activity of NK cells against infected or malignant target cells. Whereas humans, apes, and Old and New World monkeys use the family of killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) as highly diverse NK cell receptors, this function is performed in rodents by the diverse family of lectin-like receptors Ly49. When did this functional separation occur in evolution? We followed this by investigating lemurs, primates that are distantly related to humans. We show here that lemurs employ the CD94/NKG2 family as their highly diversified NK cell receptors. The CD94/NKG2 receptors also belong to the lectin-like receptor family, but are rather conserved in “higher” primates and rodents. We could further demonstrate that lemurs have a single Ly49 gene like other primates but lack functional KIR genes of the KIR3DL lineage and show major deviations in their MHC class I genomic organisation. Thus, lemurs have evolved a “third way” of polymorphic and diverse NK cell receptors. In addition, the multiplied lemur CD94/NKG2 receptors can be freely combined, thereby forming diverse receptors. This is, therefore, the first description of some combinatorial diversity of NK cell receptors.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000688
PMCID: PMC2757895  PMID: 19834558

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