Trichomonas vaginalis has an unusually large genome (∼160 Mb) encoding ∼60,000 proteins. With the goal of beginning to understand why some Trichomonas genes are present in so many copies, we characterized here a family of ∼123 Trichomonas genes that encode transmembrane adenylyl cyclases (TMACs).
The large family of TMACs genes is the result of recent duplications of a small set of ancestral genes that appear to be unique to trichomonads. Duplicated TMAC genes are not closely associated with repetitive elements, and duplications of flanking sequences are rare. However, there is evidence for TMAC gene replacements by homologous recombination. A high percentage of TMAC genes (∼46%) are pseudogenes, as they contain stop codons and/or frame shifts, or the genes are truncated. Numerous stop codons present in the genome project G3 strain are not present in orthologous genes of two other Trichomonas strains (S1 and B7RC2). Each TMAC is composed of a series of N-terminal transmembrane helices and a single C-terminal cyclase domain that has adenylyl cyclase activity. Multiple TMAC genes are transcribed by Trichomonas cloned by limiting dilution.
We conclude that one reason for the unusually large genome of Trichomonas is the presence of unstable families of genes such as those encoding TMACs that are undergoing massive gene duplication and concomitant development of pseudogenes.
Trichomonas vaginalis is the only medically important protist (single-cell eukaryote) that is sexually transmitted. The ∼160-Mb Trichomonas genome contains more predicted protein-encoding genes (∼60,000) than the human genome. To begin to understand why there are so many copies of some genes, we chose here to study a large family of genes encoding unique transmembrane cyclases. Our most important results include the following. More than 100 transmembrane cyclase genes do not result from chromosomal duplications, because for the most part only the coding regions of the genes, rather than flanking sequences, are duplicated. Almost half of the transmembrane cyclase genes are pseudogenes, and these pseudogenes are polymorphic among laboratory strains of Trichomonas. Messenger RNAs for numerous transmembrane cyclases are expressed simultaneously, and representative cyclase domains have adenylyl cyclase activity. In summary, the large family of Trichomonas genes encoding transmembrane adenylyl cyclases results from massive gene duplication and concomitant development of pseudogenes.