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Protein family review

The rhomboid protease family: a decade of progress on function and mechanism

Sinisa Urban* and Seth W Dickey

Author Affiliations

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA

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Genome Biology 2011, 12:231  doi:10.1186/gb-2011-12-10-231

Published: 27 October 2011

Abstract

Rhomboid proteases are the largest family of enzymes that hydrolyze peptide bonds within the cell membrane. Although discovered to be serine proteases only a decade ago, rhomboid proteases are already considered to be the best understood intramembrane proteases. The presence of rhomboid proteins in all domains of life emphasizes their importance but makes their evolutionary history difficult to chart with confidence. Phylogenetics nevertheless offers three guiding principles for interpreting rhomboid function. The near ubiquity of rhomboid proteases across evolution suggests broad, organizational roles that are not directly essential for cell survival. Functions have been deciphered in only about a dozen organisms and fall into four general categories: initiating cell signaling in animals, facilitating bacterial quorum sensing, regulating mitochondrial homeostasis, and dismantling adhesion complexes of parasitic protozoa. Although in no organism has the full complement of rhomboid function yet been elucidated, links to devastating human disease are emerging rapidly, including to Parkinson's disease, type II diabetes, cancer, and bacterial and malaria infection. Rhomboid proteases are unlike most proteolytic enzymes, because they are membrane-immersed; understanding how the membrane immersion affects their function remains a key challenge.