The acidic granules of natural killer (NK) cells, T cells, mast cells, and neutrophils store large amounts of serine proteases. Functionally, these proteases are involved, e.g., in the induction of apoptosis, the recruitment of inflammatory cells, and the remodeling of extra-cellular matrix. Among the granule proteases are the phylogenetically related mast cell chymases, neutrophil cathepsin G, and T-cell granzymes (Gzm B to H and Gzm N), which share the characteristic absence of a Cys191–Cys220 bridge. The genes of these proteases are clustered in one locus, the mast cell chymase locus, in all previously investigated mammals. In this paper, we present a detailed analysis of the chymase locus in cattle (Bos taurus) and opossum (Monodelphis domestica). The gained information delineates the evolution of the chymase locus over more than 200 million years. Surprisingly, the cattle chymase locus contains two α-chymase and two cathepsin G genes where all other studied chymase loci have single genes. Moreover, the cattle locus holds at least four genes for duodenases, which are not found in other chymase loci. Interestingly, duodenases seem to have digestive rather than immune functions. In opossum, on the other hand, only two chymase locus-related genes have been identified. These two genes are not arranged in one locus, but appear to have been separated by a marsupial-specific chromosomal rearrangement. Phylogenetic analyses place one of the opossum genes firmly with mast cell α-chymases, which indicates that the α-chymase had already evolved as a separate, clearly identifiable gene before the separation of marsupials and placental mammals. In contrast, the second gene in opossum is positioned phylogenetically between granzymes, cathepsin G, and the duodenases. These genes, therefore, probably evolved as separate subfamilies after the separation of placental mammals from marsupials. In platypus, only one chymase locus-like sequence could be identified. This previously published “granzyme” does not cluster clearly with any of the chymase locus gene families, but shares the absence of the Cys191–Cys220 bridge with the other chymase locus proteases. These findings indicate that all chymase locus genes are derived from a single ancestor that was present more than 200 million years ago.
2006. Vol. 58, no 8, 655-669 p.