Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Molecular evolution of Phox-related regulatory subunits for NADPH oxidase enzymes

Tsukasa Kawahara* and J David Lambeth

Author Affiliations

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, 30322, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:178  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-178

Published: 27 September 2007



The reactive oxygen-generating

idases (Noxes) function in a variety of biological roles, and can be broadly classified into those that are regulated by subunit interactions and those that are regulated by calcium. The prototypical subunit-regulated Nox, Nox2, is the membrane-associated catalytic subunit of the phagocyte NADPH-oxidase. Nox2 forms a heterodimer with the integral membrane protein, p22phox, and this heterodimer binds to the regulatory subunits p47phox, p67phox, p40phox and the small GTPase Rac, triggering superoxide generation. Nox-organizer protein 1 (NOXO1) and Nox-activator 1 (NOXA1), respective homologs of p47phox and p67phox, together with p22phox and Rac, activate Nox1, a non-phagocytic homolog of Nox2. NOXO1 and p22phox also regulate Nox3, whereas Nox4 requires only p22phox. In this study, we have assembled and analyzed amino acid sequences of Nox regulatory subunit orthologs from vertebrates, a urochordate, an echinoderm, a mollusc, a cnidarian, a choanoflagellate, fungi and a slime mold amoeba to investigate the evolutionary history of these subunits.


Ancestral p47phox, p67phox, and p22phox genes are broadly seen in the metazoa, except for the ecdysozoans. The choanoflagellate Monosiga brevicollis, the unicellular organism that is the closest relatives of multicellular animals, encodes early prototypes of p22phox, p47phox as well as the earliest known Nox2-like ancestor of the Nox1-3 subfamily. p67phox- and p47phox-like genes are seen in the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the limpet Lottia gigantea that also possess Nox2-like co-orthologs of vertebrate Nox1-3. Duplication of primordial p47phox and p67phox genes occurred in vertebrates, with the duplicated branches evolving into NOXO1 and NOXA1. Analysis of characteristic domains of regulatory subunits suggests a novel view of the evolution of Nox: in fish, p40phox participated in regulating both Nox1 and Nox2, but after the appearance of mammals, Nox1 (but not Nox2) became independent of p40phox. In the fish Oryzias latipes, a NOXO1 ortholog retains an autoinhibitory region that is characteristic of mammalian p47phox, and this was subsequently lost from NOXO1 in later vertebrates. Detailed amino acid sequence comparisons identified both putative key residues conserved in characteristic domains and previously unidentified conserved regions. Also, candidate organizer/activator proteins in fungi and amoeba are identified and hypothetical activation models are suggested.


This is the first report to provide the comprehensive view of the molecular evolution of regulatory subunits for Nox enzymes. This approach provides clues for understanding the evolution of biochemical and physiological functions for regulatory-subunit-dependent Nox enzymes.