A wide range of frogs produce skin poisons composed of bioactive peptides for defence against pathogens, parasites and predators. While several frog families have been thoroughly screened for skin-secreted peptides, others, like the Microhylidae, have remained mostly unexplored. Previous studies of microhylids found no evidence of peptide secretion, suggesting that this defence adaptation was evolutionarily lost. We conducted transcriptome analyses of the skins of Phrynomantis bifasciatus and Phrynomantis microps, two African microhylid species long suspected to be poisonous. Our analyses reveal 17 evolutionary related transcripts that diversified from to those of cytolytic peptides found in other frog families. The 19 peptides predicted to be processed from these transcripts, named phrynomantins, show a striking structural diversity that is distinct from any previously identified frog skin peptide. Functional analyses of five phrynomantins confirm the loss of a cytolytic function and the absence of insecticidal or proinflammatory activity, suggesting that they represent an evolutionary transition to a new, yet unknown function. Our study shows that peptides have been retained in the defence poison of at least one microhylid lineage and encourages research on similarly understudied taxa to further elucidate the diversity and evolution of skin defence molecules.
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