Evolutionary origins of the purinergic signalling system


G. Burnstock, Autonomic Neuroscience Centre, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF, UK. E-mail: g.burnstock@ucl.ac.uk


Purines appear to be the most primitive and widespread chemical messengers in the animal and plant kingdoms. The evidence for purinergic signalling in plants, invertebrates and lower vertebrates is reviewed. Much is based on pharmacological studies, but important recent studies have utilized the techniques of molecular biology and receptors have been cloned and characterized in primitive invertebrates, including the social amoeba Dictyostelium and the platyhelminth Schistosoma, as well as the green algae Ostreococcus, which resemble P2X receptors identified in mammals. This suggests that contrary to earlier speculations, P2X ion channel receptors appeared early in evolution, while G protein-coupled P1 and P2Y receptors were introduced either at the same time or perhaps even later. The absence of gene coding for P2X receptors in some animal groups [e.g. in some insects, roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans) and the plant Arabidopsis] in contrast to the potent pharmacological actions of nucleotides in the same species, suggests that novel receptors are still to be discovered.