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BMC Evol Biol. 2006 Oct 6;6:79.

Insights into the evolution of the ErbB receptor family and their ligands from sequence analysis.

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Dept. of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.



In the time since we presented the first molecular evolutionary study of the ErbB family of receptors and the EGF family of ligands, there has been a dramatic increase in genomic sequences available. We have utilized this greatly expanded data set in this study of the ErbB family of receptors and their ligands.


In our previous analysis we postulated that EGF family ligands could be characterized by the presence of a splice site in the coding region between the fourth and fifth cysteines of the EGF module and the placement of that module near the transmembrane domain. The recent identification of several new ligands for the ErbB receptors supports this characterization of an ErbB ligand; further, applying this characterization to available sequences suggests additional potential ligands for these receptors, the EGF modules from previously identified proteins: interphotoreceptor matrix proteoglycan-2, the alpha and beta subunit of meprin A, and mucins 3, 4, 12, and 17. The newly available sequences have caused some reorganizations of relationships among the ErbB ligand family, but they add support to the previous conclusion that three gene duplication events gave rise to the present family of four ErbB receptors among the tetrapods.


This study provides strong support for the hypothesis that the presence of an easily identifiable sequence motif can distinguish EGF family ligands from other EGF-like modules and reveals several potential new EGF family ligands. It also raises interesting questions about the evolution of ErbB2 and ErbB3: Does ErbB2 in teleosts function differently from ErbB2 in tetrapods in terms of ligand binding and intramolecular tethering? When did ErbB3 lose kinase activity, and what is the functional significance of the divergence of its kinase domain among teleosts?

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