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Open Access Research article

The genome sequence of the protostome Daphnia pulex encodes respective orthologues of a neurotrophin, a Trk and a p75NTR: Evolution of neurotrophin signaling components and related proteins in the bilateria

Karen HS Wilson

Author Affiliations

University of Gothenburg, The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences - Kristineberg, S-450 34 Fiskebäckskil, Sweden

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:243  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-243

Published: 6 October 2009



Neurotrophins and their Trk and p75NTR receptors play an important role in the nervous system. To date, neurotrophins, Trk and p75NTR have only been found concomitantly in deuterostomes. In protostomes, homologues to either neurotrophin, Trk or p75NTR are reported but their phylogenetic relationship to deuterostome neurotrophin signaling components is unclear. Drosophila has neurotrophin homologues called Spätzles (Spz), some of which were recently renamed neurotrophins, but direct proof that these are deuterostome neurotrophin orthologues is lacking. Trks belong to the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) family and among RTKs, Trks and RORs are closest related. Flies lack Trks but have ROR and ROR-related proteins called NRKs playing a neurotrophic role. Mollusks have so far the most similar proteins to Trks (Lymnaea Trk and Aplysia Trkl) but the exact phylogenetic relationship of mollusk Trks to each other and to vertebrate Trks is unknown. p75NTR belongs to the tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) superfamily. The divergence of the TNFR families in vertebrates has been suggested to parallel the emergence of the adaptive immune system. Only one TNFR representative, the Drosophila Wengen, has been found in protostomes. To clarify the evolution of neurotrophin signaling components in bilateria, this work analyzes the genome of the crustacean Daphnia pulex as well as new genetic data from protostomes.


The Daphnia genome encodes a neurotrophin, p75NTR and Trk orthologue together with Trkl, ROR, and NRK-RTKs. Drosophila Spz1, 2, 3, 5, 6 orthologues as well as two new groups of Spz proteins (Spz7 and 8) are also found in the Daphnia genome. Searching genbank and the genomes of Capitella, Helobdella and Lottia reveals neurotrophin signaling components in other protostomes.


It appears that a neurotrophin, Trk and p75NTR existed at the protostome/deuterostome split. In protostomes, a "neurotrophin superfamily" includes Spzs and neurotrophins which respectively form two paralogous families. Trks and Trkl proteins also form closely related paralogous families within the protostomian RTKs, whereby Trkls are absent in deuterostomes. The finding of p75NTR in several protostomes suggests that death domain TNFR superfamily proteins appeared early in evolution.