Programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) and its ligands, particularly PD-L1 and PD-L2, are the most important proteins responsible for signaling T-cell inhibition and arbitrating immune homeostasis and tolerance mechanisms. However, the adaptive evolution of these genes is poorly understood. In this study, we aligned protein-coding genes from vertebrate species to evaluate positive selection constraints and evolution in the PD1, PD-L1 and PD-L2 genes conserved across up to 166 vertebrate species, with an average of 55 species per gene. We determined that although the positive selection was obvious, an average of 5.3% of codons underwent positive selection in the three genes across vertebrate lineages, and increased positive selection pressure was detected in both the Ig-like domains and transmembrane domains of the proteins. Moreover, the PD1, PD-L1 and PD-L2 genes were highly expressed in almost all tissues of the selected species indicating a distinct expression pattern in different tissues among most species. Our study reveals that adaptive selection plays a key role in the evolution of PD1 and its ligands in the majority of vertebrate species, which is in agreement with the contribution of these residues to the mechanisms of pathogen identification and coevolution in the complexity and novelties of vertebrate immune systems.