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Subcellular trafficking is a hallmark of eukaryotic cells. Because of their pivotal role in the process, a great deal of attention has been paid to the SNARE proteins. Most R-SNAREs, or "longins", however, also possess a highly conserved, N-terminal fold. This "longin domain" is known to play multiple roles in regulating SNARE activity and targeting via interaction with other trafficking proteins. However, the diversity and complement of longins in eukaryotes is poorly understood.
Our comparative genome survey identified a novel family of longin-related proteins, dubbed the "Phytolongins" because they are specific to land plants. Phytolongins share with longins the N-terminal longin domain and the C-terminal transmembrane domain; however, in the central region, the SNARE motif is replaced by a novel region. Phylogenetic analysis pinpoints the Phytolongins as a derivative of the plant specific VAMP72 longin sub-family and allows elucidation of Phytolongin evolution.
"Longins" have been defined as R-SNAREs composed of both a longin domain and a SNARE motif. However, expressed gene isoforms and splice variants of longins are examples of non-SNARE motif containing longins. The discovery of Phytolongins, a family of non-SNARE longin domain proteins, together with recent evidence on the conservation of the longin-like fold in proteins involved in both vesicle fusion (e.g. the Trs20 tether) and vesicle formation (e.g. σ and μ adaptin) highlight the importance of the longin-like domain in protein trafficking and suggest that it was one of the primordial building blocks of the eukaryotic membrane-trafficking machinery.