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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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Citation and License

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

Published: 21 May 2008

Abstract

Background

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.

Results

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.

Conclusion

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.