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Open Access Research article

Protein functional links in Trypanosoma brucei, identified by gene fusion analysis

Dimitris Dimitriadis, V Lila Koumandou, Philip Trimpalis and Sophia Kossida*

Author Affiliations

Biomedical Research Foundation, Academy of Athens, Athens, Greece

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:193  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-193

Published: 5 July 2011

Abstract

Background

Domain or gene fusion analysis is a bioinformatics method for detecting gene fusions in one organism by comparing its genome to that of other organisms. The occurrence of gene fusions suggests that the two original genes that participated in the fusion are functionally linked, i.e. their gene products interact either as part of a multi-subunit protein complex, or in a metabolic pathway. Gene fusion analysis has been used to identify protein functional links in prokaryotes as well as in eukaryotic model organisms, such as yeast and Drosophila.

Results

In this study we have extended this approach to include a number of recently sequenced protists, four of which are pathogenic, to identify fusion linked proteins in Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness. We have also examined the evolution of the gene fusion events identified, to determine whether they can be attributed to fusion or fission, by looking at the conservation of the fused genes and of the individual component genes across the major eukaryotic and prokaryotic lineages. We find relatively limited occurrence of gene fusions/fissions within the protist lineages examined. Our results point to two trypanosome-specific gene fissions, which have recently been experimentally confirmed, one fusion involving proteins involved in the same metabolic pathway, as well as two novel putative functional links between fusion-linked protein pairs.

Conclusions

This is the first study of protein functional links in T. brucei identified by gene fusion analysis. We have used strict thresholds and only discuss results which are highly likely to be genuine and which either have already been or can be experimentally verified. We discuss the possible impact of the identification of these novel putative protein-protein interactions, to the development of new trypanosome therapeutic drugs.