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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Genome-wide survey of prokaryotic serine proteases: Analysis of distribution and domain architectures of five serine protease families in prokaryotes

Lokesh P Tripathi12 and R Sowdhamini1*

Author Affiliations

1 National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, GKVK Campus, Bellary Road, Bangalore-560065, India

2 Current address: National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, 7-6-8 Asagi Saito Ibaraki-City, Osaka, 567-0085, Japan

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:549  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-549

Published: 19 November 2008



Serine proteases are one of the most abundant groups of proteolytic enzymes found in all the kingdoms of life. While studies have established significant roles for many prokaryotic serine proteases in several physiological processes, such as those associated with metabolism, cell signalling, defense response and development, functional associations for a large number of prokaryotic serine proteases are relatively unknown. Current analysis is aimed at understanding the distribution and probable biological functions of the select serine proteases encoded in representative prokaryotic organisms.


A total of 966 putative serine proteases, belonging to five families, were identified in the 91 prokaryotic genomes using various sensitive sequence search techniques. Phylogenetic analysis reveals several species-specific clusters of serine proteases suggesting their possible involvement in organism-specific functions. Atypical phylogenetic associations suggest an important role for lateral gene transfer events in facilitating the widespread distribution of the serine proteases in the prokaryotes. Domain organisations of the gene products were analysed, employing sensitive sequence search methods, to infer their probable biological functions. Trypsin, subtilisin and Lon protease families account for a significant proportion of the multi-domain representatives, while the D-Ala-D-Ala carboxypeptidase and the Clp protease families are mostly single-domain polypeptides in prokaryotes. Regulatory domains for protein interaction, signalling, pathogenesis, cell adhesion etc. were found tethered to the serine protease domains. Some domain combinations (such as S1-PDZ; LON-AAA-S16 etc.) were found to be widespread in the prokaryotic lineages suggesting a critical role in prokaryotes.


Domain architectures of many serine proteases and their homologues identified in prokaryotes are very different from those observed in eukaryotes, suggesting distinct roles for serine proteases in prokaryotes. Many domain combinations were found unique to specific prokaryotic species, suggesting functional specialisation in various cellular and physiological processes.