Open Access Research article

Cross-study analysis of genomic data defines the ciliate multigenic epiplasmin family: strategies for functional analysis in Paramecium tetraurelia

Raghida Damaj, Sébastien Pomel, Geneviève Bricheux, Gérard Coffe, Bernard Viguès, Viviane Ravet and Philippe Bouchard*

Author Affiliations

Laboratoire Microorganismes: Génome et Environnement (ex. LBP) UMR CNRS 6023, Université Blaise Pascal, 63177, Aubière cedex, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:125  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-125

Published: 3 June 2009



The sub-membranous skeleton of the ciliate Paramecium, the epiplasm, is composed of hundreds of epiplasmic scales centered on basal bodies, and presents a complex set of proteins, epiplasmins, which belong to a multigenic family. The repeated duplications observed in the P. tetraurelia genome present an interesting model of the organization and evolution of a multigenic family within a single cell.


To study this multigenic family, we used phylogenetic, structural, and analytical transcriptional approaches. The phylogenetic method defines 5 groups of epiplasmins in the multigenic family. A refined analysis by Hydrophobic Cluster Analysis (HCA) identifies structural characteristics of 51 epiplasmins, defining five separate groups, and three classes. Depending on the sequential arrangement of their structural domains, the epiplasmins are defined as symmetric, asymmetric or atypical. The EST data aid in this classification, in the identification of putative regulating sequences such as TATA or CAAT boxes. When specific RNAi experiments were conducted using sequences from either symmetric or asymmetric classes, phenotypes were drastic. Local effects show either disrupted or ill-shaped epiplasmic scales. In either case, this results in aborted cell division.

Using structural features, we show that 4 epiplasmins are also present in another ciliate, Tetrahymena thermophila. Their affiliation with the distinctive structural groups of Paramecium epiplasmins demonstrates an interspecific multigenic family.


The epiplasmin multigenic family illustrates the history of genomic duplication in Paramecium. This study provides a framework which can guide functional analysis of epiplasmins, the major components of the membrane skeleton in ciliates. We show that this set of proteins handles an important developmental information in Paramecium since maintenance of epiplasm organization is crucial for cell morphogenesis.