Nearly all eukaryotic cells possess an extensive endomembrane system that is principally responsible for protein targeting and modification (1
). The nucleus, the defining eukaryotic feature, is separated from the cytoplasm by a double bilayered nuclear envelope (NE)1
that is contiguous with the rest of this endomembrane system via connections to the endoplasmic reticulum. Nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) fenestrate the NE, serving as the exclusive sites mediating exchange between the nucleoplasmic and cytoplasmic compartments. Macromolecules are chaperoned through the NPC by numerous transport factors. It has been proposed that the endomembrane system and nucleus have an autogenous origin (i.e.
evolving from invaginations of an ancestral plasma membrane) and were established early in eukaryotic evolution (2
The composition of the NPC has been cataloged at ~30 distinct nucleoporins (Nups) (3
) for the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae
) and vertebrates (5
), two members of the Opisthokonta (animals, fungi, and closely related protists). Ultrastructural studies have identified objects morphologically similar (at a first approximation) to opisthokont NPCs in the other major eukaryote supergroups (6
). However, very few data are available concerning the detailed NPC molecular composition and architecture for nearly all eukaryotic lineages, leaving a relatively narrow view of the “typical” NPC and its origins. A few examples of potential Nup orthologs beyond the opisthokonts have been reported, leading to the suggestion that substantial portions of the NPC may have an ancient, pre-last common eukaryotic ancestor (LCEA) origin (9
). However, a more extensive study has concluded that LCEA possessed a primitive ancestral NPC that passed few components to its modern descendants (10
In yeast and vertebrates, the NPC consists of an eight-spoked core surrounding a central tube that serves as the conduit for macromolecular exchange. Each spoke can be divided into two similar nucleoplasmic and cytoplasmic halves. The eight spokes connect to form several coaxial rings: the membrane rings, the two outer rings at the nucleoplasmic and cytoplasmic periphery, and the two adjacent inner rings (11
). Groups of Nups that we term “linker Nups” are attached between both sets of outer and inner rings. Another group of related proteins, collectively termed phenylalanine-glycine (FG) Nups, are largely exposed on the inner surface of the spokes and anchored either to the inner rings or to the linker Nups (11
Opisthokont Nups can be grouped into three structural classes (11
). The first class comprises membrane-bound proteins that anchor the NPC into the NE. The second class is the core scaffold Nups; these proteins constitute the bulk of the NPC mass, form the central tube, and provide the scaffold for the deployment of the third class of Nups across both faces of the NPC. The core scaffold Nups are remarkably restricted at the structural level and contain only three distinct arrangements of 2-fold types: proteins dominated by an α-solenoid fold (also termed a helix-turn-helix repeat domain), proteins consisting of a β-propeller fold, and finally proteins composed of an amino-terminal β-propeller fold followed by a carboxyl-terminal α-solenoid fold (which we here term a β-α structure) (12
). FG Nups comprise the third class. These Nups carry multiply repeated degenerate “Phe-Gly” motifs (FG repeats) separated by hydrophilic or charged residues that form large unstructured domains. Each FG Nup also contains a small structured domain (often a coiled coil motif) that serves as the anchor site for interaction with the remainder of the NPC.
Many transport factors belong to a structurally related protein family collectively termed karyopherins (Kaps) (13
). Transport across the NPC depends on the interactions between Kaps, cargo molecules, and the disordered repeat domains of FG Nups; the latter are thought to form the selective barrier for nucleocytoplasmic transport, guiding the Kap·cargo complexes (and other transport factors) through the central tube while excluding other macromolecules (for reviews, see Refs. 3
Significantly we have previously noted that the fold composition and arrangement of many of the core scaffold Nups are shared with proteins that form coating structures that participate in the generation and transport of vesicles between different endomembrane compartments; significantly many vesicle coating complex proteins and NPC scaffold Nups share an α-solenoid fold, β-propeller fold, or β-α structure (12
). These similarities gave rise to the “protocoatomer hypothesis,” which suggests a common ancestry for the NPC and these vesicle coat complexes. However, it is unclear how many, if any, of these particular core scaffold Nups are widely conserved, and hence it is unclear how general this potential relationship is throughout the Eukaryota. Thus, two scenarios are possible. The first is that the coatomer-like proteins are only found in a subset of the eukaryotes (including the opisthokonts), indicating that they are a relatively recent acquisition of only some eukaryotes and are not a general feature of all NPCs. The second is that the coatomer-like proteins are conserved in all eukaryotes, providing strong support to the protocoatomer hypothesis. To directly address this issue we characterized the NPC of Trypanosoma brucei
, a highly divergent but experimentally tractable organism, using proteomics. The resulting data indicate an ancient origin for the majority of the NPC components and shed light on the origin of LCEA itself.