Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Metazoan-like signaling in a unicellular receptor tyrosine kinase

Kira P Schultheiss1, Barbara P Craddock1, Michael Tong2, Markus Seeliger2 and W Todd Miller1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Basic Science Tower, T-6, School of Medicine, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, 11794-8661, USA

2 Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY, 11794-8661, USA

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BMC Biochemistry 2013, 14:4  doi:10.1186/1471-2091-14-4

Published: 12 February 2013



Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) are crucial components of signal transduction systems in multicellular animals. Surprisingly, numerous RTKs have been identified in the genomes of unicellular choanoflagellates and other protists. Here, we report the first biochemical study of a unicellular RTK, namely RTKB2 from Monosiga brevicollis.


We cloned, expressed, and purified the RTKB2 kinase, and showed that it is enzymatically active. The activity of RTKB2 is controlled by autophosphorylation, as in metazoan RTKs. RTKB2 possesses six copies of a unique domain (designated RM2) in its C-terminal tail. An isolated RM2 domain (or a synthetic peptide derived from the RM2 sequence) served as a substrate for RTKB2 kinase. When phosphorylated, the RM2 domain bound to the Src homology 2 domain of MbSrc1 from M. brevicollis. NMR structural studies of the RM2 domain indicated that it is disordered in solution.


Our results are consistent with a model in which RTKB2 activation stimulates receptor autophosphorylation within the RM2 domains. This leads to recruitment of Src-like kinases (and potentially other M. brevicollis proteins) and further phosphorylation, which may serve to increase or dampen downstream signals. Thus, crucial features of signal transduction circuitry were established prior to the evolution of metazoans from their unicellular ancestors.

Tyrosine kinase; Choanoflagellate; Receptor; SH2 domain