Keeping the blood flowing - Plasminogen activator genes and feeding behavior in vampire bats

Åsa Tellgren-Roth, Katharina Dittmar, Steven E. Massey, Cecilia Kemi, Christian Tellgren-Roth, Peter Savolainen, Leslie A Lyons, David A. Liberles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The blood feeding vampire bats emerged from New World leaf-nosed bats that fed on fruit and insects. Plasminogen activator, a serine protease that regulates blood coagulation, is known to be expressed in the saliva of Desmodus rotundus (common vampire bat) and is thought to be a key enzyme for the emergence of blood feeding in vampire bats. To better understand the evolution of this biological function, we studied the plasminogen activator (PA) genes from all vampire bat species in light of their feeding transition to bird and subsequently mammalian blood. We include the rare species Diphylla ecaudata and Diaemus youngi, where plasminogen activator had not previously been studied and demonstrate that PA gene duplication observed in Desmodus is not essential to the vampire phenotype, but relates to the emergence of predominant mammalian blood feeding in this species. Plasminogen activator has evolved through gene duplication, domain loss, and sequence evolution leading to change in fibrin-specificity and susceptibility to plasminogen activator inhibitor-1. Before undertaking this study, only the four plasminogen activator isoforms from Desmodus were known. The evolution of vampire bat plasminogen activators can now be linked phylogenetically to the transition in feeding behavior among vampire bat species from bird to mammalian blood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-47
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009


  • Domain evolution
  • Ecological niche
  • Gene duplication
  • Positive selection
  • Species adaptation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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