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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Feb 5;99(3):1264-9. Epub 2002 Jan 29.

gamma -Glutamyl carboxylation: An extracellular posttranslational modification that antedates the divergence of molluscs, arthropods, and chordates.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; and Cognetix, Inc., 401 Wakara Way no. 201, Salt Lake City, UT 84108.


The posttranslational gamma-carboxylation of glutamate residues in secreted proteins to gamma-carboxyglutamate is carried out by the vitamin K-dependent enzyme gamma-glutamyl carboxylase. gamma-Carboxylation has long been thought to be a biochemical specialization of vertebrates, essential for blood clotting. Recently, a gamma-carboxylase was shown to be expressed in Drosophila, although its function remains undefined in this organism. We have characterized both cDNA and genomic clones for the gamma-glutamyl carboxylase from the marine mollusc, Conus, the only nonvertebrate organism for which gamma-carboxyglutamate-containing proteins have been biochemically and physiologically characterized. The predicted amino acid sequence has a high degree of sequence similarity to the Drosophila and vertebrate enzymes. Although gamma-carboxylases are highly conserved, the Conus and mammalian enzymes have divergent substrate specificity. There are striking parallels in the gene organization of Conus and human gamma-carboxylases. Of the 10 Conus introns identified, 8 are in precisely the same position as the corresponding introns in the human enzyme. This remarkable conservation of intron/exon boundaries reveals that an intron-rich gamma-carboxylase was present early in the evolution of the animal phyla; although specialized adaptations in mammals and molluscs that require this extracellular modification have been identified, the ancestral function(s) and wider biological roles of gamma-carboxylation still need to be defined. The data raise the possibility that most introns in the genes of both mammals and molluscs antedate the divergence of these phyla.

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