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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Animal HECT ubiquitin ligases: evolution and functional implications

Ignacio Marín

Author Affiliations

Instituto de Biomedicina de Valencia, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (IBV-CSIC), Valencia, Spain

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-56

Published: 22 February 2010

Abstract

Background

HECT ubiquitin ligases (HECT E3s) are key components of the eukaryotic ubiquitin-proteasome system and are involved in the genesis of several human diseases. In this study, I analyze the patterns of diversification of HECT E3s since animals emerged in order to provide the right framework to understand the functional data available for proteins of this family.

Results

I show that the current classification of HECT E3s into three groups (NEDD4-like E3s, HERCs and single-HECT E3s) is fundamentally incorrect. First, the existence of a "Single-HECT E3s" group is not supported by phylogenetic analyses. Second, the HERC proteins must be divided into two subfamilies (Large HERCs, Small HERCs) that are evolutionarily very distant, their structural similarity being due to convergence and not to a common origin. Sequence and structural analyses show that animal HECT E3s can be naturally classified into 16 subfamilies. Almost all of them appeared either before animals originated or in early animal evolution. More recently, multiple gene losses have occurred independently in some lineages (nematodes, insects, urochordates), the same groups that have also lost genes of another type of E3s (RBR family). Interestingly, the emergence of some animal HECT E3s precedes the origin of key cellular systems that they regulate (TGF-β and EGF signal transduction pathways; p53 family of transcription factors) and it can be deduced that distantly related HECT proteins have been independently co-opted to perform similar roles. This may contribute to explain why distantly related HECT E3s are involved in the genesis of multiple types of cancer.

Conclusions

The complex evolutionary history of HECT ubiquitin ligases in animals has been deciphered. The most appropriate model animals to study them and new theoretical and experimental lines of research are suggested by these results.