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Mol Biol Evol. 2016 Jul;33(7):1833-42. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msw061. Epub 2016 Mar 31.

Are There Rab GTPases in Archaea?

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Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, Oeiras, Portugal
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia, Oeiras, Portugal.


A complex endomembrane system is one of the hallmarks of Eukaryotes. Vesicle trafficking between compartments is controlled by a diverse protein repertoire, including Rab GTPases. These small GTP-binding proteins contribute identity and specificity to the system, and by working as molecular switches, trigger multiple events in vesicle budding, transport, and fusion. A diverse collection of Rab GTPases already existed in the ancestral Eukaryote, yet, it is unclear how such elaborate repertoire emerged. A novel archaeal phylum, the Lokiarchaeota, revealed that several eukaryotic-like protein systems, including small GTPases, are present in Archaea. Here, we test the hypothesis that the Rab family of small GTPases predates the origin of Eukaryotes. Our bioinformatic pipeline detected multiple putative Rab-like proteins in several archaeal species. Our analyses revealed the presence and strict conservation of sequence features that distinguish eukaryotic Rabs from other small GTPases (Rab family motifs), mapping to the same regions in the structure as in eukaryotic Rabs. These mediate Rab-specific interactions with regulators of the REP/GDI (Rab Escort Protein/GDP dissociation Inhibitor) family. Sensitive structure-based methods further revealed the existence of REP/GDI-like genes in Archaea, involved in isoprenyl metabolism. Our analysis supports a scenario where Rabs differentiated into an independent family in Archaea, interacting with proteins involved in membrane biogenesis. These results further support the archaeal nature of the eukaryotic ancestor and provide a new insight into the intermediate stages and the evolutionary path toward the complex membrane-associated signaling circuits that characterize the Ras superfamily of small GTPases, and specifically Rab proteins.


LECA; Lokiarchaeum; Ras; endomembrane trafficking system; eukaryogenesis; protein prenylation.

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