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Open Access Research article

Comparison of the receptor FGFRL1 from sea urchins and humans illustrates evolution of a zinc binding motif in the intracellular domain

Lei Zhuang1, Andrei V Karotki2, Philip Bruecker3 and Beat Trueb14*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, 3010 Bern, Switzerland

2 Department of Biochemistry, University of Zürich, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland

3 Living Elements Ltd., Vancouver BC V6J 1M7, Canada

4 Department of Rheumatology, University Hospital, 3010 Bern, Switzerland

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BMC Biochemistry 2009, 10:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-10-33

Published: 18 December 2009



FGFRL1, the gene for the fifth member of the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) family, is found in all vertebrates from fish to man and in the cephalochordate amphioxus. Since it does not occur in more distantly related invertebrates such as insects and nematodes, we have speculated that FGFRL1 might have evolved just before branching of the vertebrate lineage from the other invertebrates (Beyeler and Trueb, 2006).


We identified the gene for FGFRL1 also in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and cloned its mRNA. The deduced amino acid sequence shares 62% sequence similarity with the human protein and shows conservation of all disulfides and N-linked carbohydrate attachment sites. Similar to the human protein, the S. purpuratus protein contains a histidine-rich motif at the C-terminus, but this motif is much shorter than the human counterpart. To analyze the function of the novel motif, recombinant fusion proteins were prepared in a bacterial expression system. The human fusion protein bound to nickel and zinc affinity columns, whereas the sea urchin protein barely interacted with such columns. Direct determination of metal ions by atomic absorption revealed 2.6 mole zinc/mole protein for human FGFRL1 and 1.7 mole zinc/mole protein for sea urchin FGFRL1.


The FGFRL1 gene has evolved much earlier than previously assumed. A comparison of the intracellular domain between sea urchin and human FGFRL1 provides interesting insights into the shaping of a novel zinc binding domain.