Understanding the evolution of immune genes in jawed vertebrates

Michal Vinkler, Steven R. Fiddaman, Martin Těšický, Emily A. O'Connor, Anna E. Savage, Tobias L. Lenz, Adrian L. Smith, Jim Kaufman, Daniel I. Bolnick, Charli S. Davies, Neira Dedić, Andrew S. Flies, M. Mercedes Gómez Samblás, Amberleigh E. Henschen, Karel Novák, Gemma Palomar, Nynke Raven, Kalifa Samaké, Joel Slade, Nithya Kuttiyarthu VeetilEleni Voukali, Jacob Höglund, David S. Richardson, Helena Westerdahl

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Driven by co-evolution with pathogens, host immunity continuously adapts to optimize defence against pathogens within a given environment. Recent advances in genetics, genomics and transcriptomics have enabled a more detailed investigation into how immunogenetic variation shapes the diversity of immune responses seen across domestic and wild animal species. However, a deeper understanding of the diverse molecular mechanisms that shape immunity within and among species is still needed to gain insight into—and generate evolutionary hypotheses on—the ultimate drivers of immunological differences. Here, we discuss current advances in our understanding of molecular evolution underpinning jawed vertebrate immunity. First, we introduce the immunome concept, a framework for characterizing genes involved in immune defence from a comparative perspective, then we outline how immune genes of interest can be identified. Second, we focus on how different selection modes are observed acting across groups of immune genes and propose hypotheses to explain these differences. We then provide an overview of the approaches used so far to study the evolutionary heterogeneity of immune genes on macro and microevolutionary scales. Finally, we discuss some of the current evidence as to how specific pathogens affect the evolution of different groups of immune genes. This review results from the collective discussion on the current key challenges in evolutionary immunology conducted at the ESEB 2021 Online Satellite Symposium: Molecular evolution of the vertebrate immune system, from the lab to natural populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-873
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of evolutionary biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • adaptation
  • adaptive immunity
  • evolutionary immunology
  • genomics
  • host-parasite interactions
  • immunogenetics
  • innate immunity
  • MHC
  • molecular evolution
  • vertebrates


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