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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2019 Oct;76(20):4117-4130. doi: 10.1007/s00018-019-03103-7. Epub 2019 Apr 26.

The evolutionary landscape of the Rab family in chordates.

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Biology and Evolution of Marine Organisms, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn Napoli, Villa Comunale 1, 80121, Naples, Italy.
Molecular Cardiovascular Biology Division, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, USA.
Departament de Genètica, Microbiologia i Estadística and Institut de Recerca de la Biodiversitat (IRBio), Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 643, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.
Biology and Evolution of Marine Organisms, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn Napoli, Villa Comunale 1, 80121, Naples, Italy.


Intracellular traffic amongst organelles represents a key feature for eukaryotes and is orchestrated principally by members of Rab family, the largest within Ras superfamily. Given that variations in Rab repertoire have been fundamental in animal diversification, we provided the most exhaustive survey regarding the Rab toolkit of chordates. Our findings reveal the existence of 42 metazoan conserved subfamilies exhibiting a univocal intron/exon structure preserved from cnidarians to vertebrates. Since the current view does not capture the Rab complexity, we propose a new Rab family classification in three distinct monophyletic clades. The Rab complement of chordates shows a dramatic diversification due to genome duplications and independent gene duplications and losses with sharp differences amongst cephalochordates, tunicates and gnathostome vertebrates. Strikingly, the analysis of the domain architecture of this family highlighted the existence of chimeric calcium-binding Rabs, which are animal novelties characterized by a complex evolutionary history in gnathostomes and whose role in cellular metabolism is obscure. This work provides novel insights in the knowledge of Rab family: our hypothesis is that chordates represent a hotspot of Rab variability, with many events of gene gains and losses impacting intracellular traffic capabilities. Our results help to elucidate the role of Rab members in the transport amongst endomembranes and shed light on intracellular traffic routes in vertebrates. Then, since the predominant role of Rabs in the molecular communication between different cellular districts, this study paves to way to comprehend inherited or acquired human disorders provoked by dysfunctions in Rab genes.


Amphioxus Branchiostoma; Ascidian Ciona; Calcium-binding Rab chimeras; Larvacean Oikopleura; Metazoan Rabs; Small GTPase superfamily

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