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Open Access Research

The prokaryotic antecedents of the ubiquitin-signaling system and the early evolution of ubiquitin-like β-grasp domains

Lakshminarayan M Iyer1, A Maxwell Burroughs12 and L Aravind1*

Author Affiliations

1 National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20894, USA

2 Bioinformatics Program, Boston University, Cummington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

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Genome Biology 2006, 7:R60  doi:10.1186/gb-2006-7-7-r60

Published: 19 July 2006

Abstract

Background

Ubiquitin (Ub)-mediated signaling is one of the hallmarks of all eukaryotes. Prokaryotic homologs of Ub (ThiS and MoaD) and E1 ligases have been studied in relation to sulfur incorporation reactions in thiamine and molybdenum/tungsten cofactor biosynthesis. However, there is no evidence for entire protein modification systems with Ub-like proteins and deconjugation by deubiquitinating enzymes in prokaryotes. Hence, the evolutionary assembly of the eukaryotic Ub-signaling apparatus remains unclear.

Results

We systematically analyzed prokaryotic Ub-related β-grasp fold proteins using sensitive sequence profile searches and structural analysis. Consequently, we identified novel Ub-related proteins beyond the characterized ThiS, MoaD, TGS, and YukD domains. To understand their functional associations, we sought and recovered several conserved gene neighborhoods and domain architectures. These included novel associations involving diverse sulfur metabolism proteins, siderophore biosynthesis and the gene encoding the transfer mRNA binding protein SmpB, as well as domain fusions between Ub-like domains and PIN-domain related RNAses. Most strikingly, we found conserved gene neighborhoods in phylogenetically diverse bacteria combining genes for JAB domains (the primary de-ubiquitinating isopeptidases of the proteasomal complex), along with E1-like adenylating enzymes and different Ub-related proteins. Further sequence analysis of other conserved genes in these neighborhoods revealed several Ub-conjugating enzyme/E2-ligase related proteins. Genes for an Ub-like protein and a JAB domain peptidase were also found in the tail assembly gene cluster of certain caudate bacteriophages.

Conclusion

These observations imply that members of the Ub family had already formed strong functional associations with E1-like proteins, UBC/E2-related proteins, and JAB peptidases in the bacteria. Several of these Ub-like proteins and the associated protein families are likely to function together in signaling systems just as in eukaryotes.