Neofunctionalization in ligand binding sites of ant olfactory receptors

Rana Saad, Amir B. Cohanim, Mickey Kosloff, Eyal Privman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Chemical communication is fundamental for the operation of insect societies. Their diverse vocabulary of chemical signals requires a correspondingly diverse set of chemosensory receptors. Insect olfactory receptors (ORs) are the largest family of chemosensory receptors. The OR family is characterized by frequent expansions of subfamilies, in which duplicated ORs may adapt to detect new signals through positive selection on their amino acid sequence. Ants are an extreme example with ~400 ORs per genome-the highest number in insects. Presumably, this reflects an increased complexity of chemical communication. Here, we examined gene duplications and positive selection on ant ORs. We reconstructed the hymenopteran OR gene tree, including five ant species, and inferred positive selection along every branch using the branch-site test, a total of 3326 tests. We find more positive selection in branches following species-specific duplications. We identified amino acid sites targeted by positive selection, and mapped them onto a structural model of insect ORs. Seventeen sites were under positive selection in six or more branches, forming two clusters on the extracellular side of the receptor, on either side of a cleft in the structure. This region was previously implicated in ligand activation, suggesting that the concentration of positively selected sites in this region is related to adaptive evolution of ligand binding sites or allosteric transmission of ligand activation. These results provide insights into the specific OR subfamilies and individual residues that facilitated adaptive evolution of olfactory functions, potentially explaining the elaboration of chemical signaling in ant societies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2490-2500
Number of pages11
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • Gene duplication
  • Olfactory receptors
  • Positive selection
  • Protein structure
  • Social insects

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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