Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular evolution of the enzymes involved in the sphingolipid metabolism of Leishmania: selection pressure in relation to functional divergence and conservation

Vineetha Mandlik, Sonali Shinde and Shailza Singh*

Author Affiliations

National Centre for Cell Science, NCCS Complex, Pune University Campus, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007, India

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-142

Published: 21 June 2014



Selection pressure governs the relative mutability and the conservedness of a protein across the protein family. Biomolecules (DNA, RNA and proteins) continuously evolve under the effect of evolutionary pressure that arises as a consequence of the host parasite interaction. IPCS (Inositol phosphorylceramide synthase), SPL (Sphingosine-1-P lyase) and SPT (Serine palmitoyl transferase) represent three important enzymes involved in the sphingolipid metabolism of Leishmania. These enzymes are responsible for maintaining the viability and infectivity of the parasite and have been classified as druggable targets in the parasite metabolome.


The present work relates to the role of selection pressure deciding functional conservedness and divergence of the drug targets. IPCS and SPL protein families appear to diverge from the SPT family. The three protein families were largely under the influence of purifying selection and were moderately conserved baring two residues in the IPCS protein which were under the influence of positive selection. To further explore the selection pressure at the codon level, codon usage bias indices were calculated to analyze genes for their synonymous codon usage pattern. IPCS gene exhibited slightly lower codon bias as compared to SPL and SPT protein families.


Evolutionary tracing of the proposed drug targets has been done with a viewpoint that the amino-acids lining the drug binding pocket should have a lower evolvability. Sites under positive selection (HIS20 and CYS30 of IPCS) should be avoided during devising strategies for inhibitor design.

Evolutionary biology; Sphingolipid metabolism of Leishmania; Functional divergence and conservedness; Specificity determining positions; Selection pressure; Codon usage bias; Relative synonymous codon usage; Effective number of Codon; GC content