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Open Access Research article

The molecular phylogeny of eph receptors and ephrin ligands

Dan O Mellott2 and Robert D Burke12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada

2 Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada

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BMC Cell Biology 2008, 9:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-9-27

Published: 21 May 2008



The tissue distributions and functions of Eph receptors and their ephrin ligands have been well studied, however less is known about their evolutionary history. We have undertaken a phylogenetic analysis of Eph receptors and ephrins from a number of invertebrate and vertebrate species.


Our findings indicate that Eph receptors form three major clades: one comprised of non-chordate and cephalochordate Eph receptors, a second comprised of urochordate Eph receptors, and a third comprised of vertebrate Eph receptors. Ephrins, on the other hand, fall into either a clade made up of the non-chordate and cephalochordate ephrins plus the urochordate and vertebrate ephrin-Bs or a clade made up of the urochordate and vertebrate ephrin-As.


We have concluded that Eph receptors and ephrins diverged into A and B-types at different points in their evolutionary history, such that primitive chordates likely possessed an ancestral ephrin-A and an ancestral ephrin-B, but only a single Eph receptor. Furthermore, ephrin-As appear to have arisen in the common ancestor of urochordates and vertebrates, whereas ephrin-Bs have a more ancient bilaterian origin. Ancestral ephrin-B-like ligands had transmembrane domains; as GPI anchors appear to have arisen or been lost at least 3 times.