Chelicerata sDscam isoforms combine homophilic specificities to define unique cell recognition

Fengyan Zhou, Guozheng Cao, Songjun Dai, Guo Li, Hao Li, Zhu Ding, Shouqing Hou, Bingbing Xu, Wendong You, Gil Wiseglass, Feng Shi, Xiaofeng Yang, Rotem Rubinstein, Yongfeng Jin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thousands of Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam1) isoforms and ∼60 clustered protocadhrein (cPcdh) proteins are required for establishing neural circuits in insects and vertebrates, respectively. The strict homophilic specificity exhibited by these proteins has been extensively studied and is thought to be critical for their function in neuronal self-avoidance. In contrast, significantly less is known about the Dscam1-related family of ∼100 shortened Dscam (sDscam) proteins in Chelicerata. We report that Chelicerata sDscamα and some sDscamβ protein trans interactions are strictly homophilic, and that the trans interaction is meditated via the first Ig domain through an antiparallel interface. Additionally, different sDscam isoforms interact promiscuously in cis via membrane proximate fibronectin-type III domains. We report that cell-cell interactions depend on the combined identity of all sDscam isoforms expressed. A single mismatched sDscam isoform can interfere with the interactions of cells that otherwise express an identical set of isoforms. Thus, our data support a model by which sDscam association in cis and trans generates a vast repertoire of combinatorial homophilic recognition specificities. We propose that in Chelicerata, sDscam combinatorial specificity is sufficient to provide each neuron with a unique identity for self-nonself discrimination. Surprisingly, while sDscams are related to Drosophila Dscam1, our results mirror the findings reported for the structurally unrelated vertebrate cPcdh. Thus, our findings suggest a remarkable example of convergent evolution for the process of neuronal self-avoidance and provide insight into the basic principles and evolution of metazoan self-avoidance and self-nonself discrimination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24813-24824
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number40
StatePublished - 6 Oct 2020


  • Chelicerata
  • Combinatorial specificity
  • Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule
  • Homophilic binding
  • Self-recognition


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