Open Access Research article

Unique motifs identify PIG-A proteins from glycosyltransferases of the GT4 family

Nupur Oswal3, Narinder Singh Sahni2, Alok Bhattacharya12, Sneha Sudha Komath1* and Rohini Muthuswami1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi – 110 067, India

2 School of Information Technology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi – 110 067, India

3 Department of Biotechnology, Jaypee Institute of Information Technology, NOIDA, India

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:168  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-168

Published: 4 June 2008



The first step of GPI anchor biosynthesis is catalyzed by PIG-A, an enzyme that transfers N-acetylglucosamine from UDP-N-acetylglucosamine to phosphatidylinositol. This protein is present in all eukaryotic organisms ranging from protozoa to higher mammals, as part of a larger complex of five to six 'accessory' proteins whose individual roles in the glycosyltransferase reaction are as yet unclear. The PIG-A gene has been shown to be an essential gene in various eukaryotes. In humans, mutations in the protein have been associated with paroxysomal noctural hemoglobuinuria. The corresponding PIG-A gene has also been recently identified in the genome of many archaeabacteria although genes of the accessory proteins have not been discovered in them. The present study explores the evolution of PIG-A and the phylogenetic relationship between this protein and other glycosyltransferases.


In this paper we show that out of the twelve conserved motifs identified by us eleven are exclusively present in PIG-A and, therefore, can be used as markers to identify PIG-A from newly sequenced genomes. Three of these motifs are absent in the primitive eukaryote, G. lamblia. Sequence analyses show that seven of these conserved motifs are present in prokaryote and archaeal counterparts in rudimentary forms and can be used to differentiate PIG-A proteins from glycosyltransferases. Using partial least square regression analysis and data involving presence or absence of motifs in a range of PIG-A and glycosyltransferases we show that (i) PIG-A may have evolved from prokaryotic glycosyltransferases and lipopolysaccharide synthases, members of the GT4 family of glycosyltransferases and (ii) it is possible to uniquely classify PIG-A proteins versus glycosyltransferases.


Besides identifying unique motifs and showing that PIG-A protein from G. lamblia and some putative PIG-A proteins from archaebacteria are evolutionarily closer to glycosyltransferases, these studies provide a new method for identification and classification of PIG-A proteins.