Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evolution of prokaryotic SPFH proteins

Markus Hinderhofer1, Christina A Walker2, Anke Friemel2, Claudia AO Stuermer3, Heiko M Möller2 and Alexander Reuter3*

  • * Corresponding author: Alexander Reuter

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Microbiology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

2 Department of Chemistry, NMR Spectroscopy, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

3 Department of Biology, Neurobiology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-10

Published: 12 January 2009



The SPFH protein superfamily is a diverse family of proteins whose eukaryotic members are involved in the scaffolding of detergent-resistant microdomains. Recently the origin of the SPFH proteins has been questioned. Instead, convergent evolution has been proposed. However, an independent, convergent evolution of three large prokaryotic and three eukaryotic families is highly unlikely, especially when other mechanisms such as lateral gene transfer which could also explain their distribution pattern have not yet been considered.

To gain better insight into this very diverse protein family, we have analyzed the genomes of 497 microorganisms and investigated the pattern of occurrence as well as the genomic vicinity of the prokaryotic SPFH members.


According to sequence and operon structure, a clear division into 12 subfamilies was evident. Three subfamilies (SPFH1, SPFH2 and SPFH5) show a conserved operon structure and two additional subfamilies are linked to those three through functional aspects (SPFH1, SPFH3, SPFH4: interaction with FtsH protease). Therefore these subgroups most likely share common ancestry. The complex pattern of occurrence among the different phyla is indicative of lateral gene transfer. Organisms that do not possess a single SPFH protein are almost exclusively endosymbionts or endoparasites.


The conserved operon structure and functional similarities suggest that at least 5 subfamilies that encompass almost 75% of all prokaryotic SPFH members share a common origin. Their similarity to the different eukaryotic SPFH families, as well as functional similarities, suggests that the eukaryotic SPFH families originated from different prokaryotic SPFH families rather than one. This explains the difficulties in obtaining a consistent phylogenetic tree of the eukaryotic SPFH members. Phylogenetic evidence points towards lateral gene transfer as one source of the very diverse patterns of occurrence in bacterial species.