Comprehensive analysis reveals dynamic and evolutionary plasticity of Rab GTPases and membrane traffic in Tetrahymena thermophila

Lydia J. Bright, Nichole Kambesis, Scott Brent Nelson, Byeongmoon Jeong, Aaron P. Turkewitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations

Abstract

Cellular sophistication is not exclusive to multicellular organisms, and unicellular eukaryotes can resemble differentiated animal cells in their complex network of membrane-bound structures. These comparisons can be illuminated by genomewide surveys of key gene families. We report a systematic analysis of Rabs in a complex unicellular Ciliate, including gene prediction and phylogenetic clustering, expression profiling based on public data, and Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) tagging. Rabs are monomeric GTPases that regulate membrane traffic. Because Rabs act as compartment-specific determinants, the number of Rabs in an organism reflects intracellular complexity. The Tetrahymena Rab family is similar in size to that in humans and includes both expansions in conserved Rab clades as well as many divergent Rabs. Importantly, more than 90% of Rabs are expressed concurrently in growing cells, while only a small subset appears specialized for other conditions. By localizing most Rabs in living cells, we could assign the majority to specific compartments. These results validated most phylogenetic assignments, but also indicated that some sequence-conserved Rabs were co-opted for novel functions. Our survey uncovered a rare example of a nuclear Rab and substantiated the existence of a previously unrecognized core Rab clade in eukaryotes. Strikingly, several functionally conserved pathways or structures were found to be associated entirely with divergent Rabs. These pathways may have permitted rapid evolution of the associated Rabs or may have arisen independently in diverse lineages and then converged. Thus, characterizing entire gene families can provide insight into the evolutionary flexibility of fundamental cellular pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1001155
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS Genetics
Volume6
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2010

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