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1.  CREST - a large and diverse superfamily of putative transmembrane hydrolases 
Biology Direct  2011;6:37.
A number of membrane-spanning proteins possess enzymatic activity and catalyze important reactions involving proteins, lipids or other substrates located within or near lipid bilayers. Alkaline ceramidases are seven-transmembrane proteins that hydrolyze the amide bond in ceramide to form sphingosine. Recently, a group of putative transmembrane receptors called progestin and adipoQ receptors (PAQRs) were found to be distantly related to alkaline ceramidases, raising the possibility that they may also function as membrane enzymes.
Using sensitive similarity search methods, we identified statistically significant sequence similarities among several transmembrane protein families including alkaline ceramidases and PAQRs. They were unified into a large and diverse superfamily of putative membrane-bound hydrolases called CREST (alkaline ceramidase, PAQR receptor, Per1, SID-1 and TMEM8). The CREST superfamily embraces a plethora of cellular functions and biochemical activities, including putative lipid-modifying enzymes such as ceramidases and the Per1 family of putative phospholipases involved in lipid remodeling of GPI-anchored proteins, putative hormone receptors, bacterial hemolysins, the TMEM8 family of putative tumor suppressors, and the SID-1 family of putative double-stranded RNA transporters involved in RNA interference. Extensive similarity searches and clustering analysis also revealed several groups of proteins with unknown function in the CREST superfamily. Members of the CREST superfamily share seven predicted core transmembrane segments with several conserved sequence motifs.
Universal conservation of a set of histidine and aspartate residues across all groups in the CREST superfamily, coupled with independent discoveries of hydrolase activities in alkaline ceramidases and the Per1 family as well as results from previous mutational studies of Per1, suggests that the majority of CREST members are metal-dependent hydrolases.
This article was reviewed by Kira S. Markarova, Igor B. Zhulin and Rob Knight.
PMCID: PMC3146951  PMID: 21733186
2.  The human Ago2 MC region does not contain an eIF4E-like mRNA cap binding motif 
Biology Direct  2009;4:2.
Argonaute (Ago) proteins interact with small regulatory RNAs to mediate gene regulatory pathways. A recent report by Kiriakidou et al. [1] describes an MC sequence region identified in Ago2 that displays similarity to the cap-binding motif in translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E). In a cap-bound eIF4E structure, two important aromatic residues of the motif stack on either side of a 7-methylguanosine 5'-triphosphate (m7Gppp) base. The corresponding Ago2 aromatic residues (F450 and F505) were hypothesized to perform the same cap-binding function. However, the detected similarity between the MC sequence and the eIF4E cap-binding motif was questionable.
A number of sequence-based and structure-based bioinformatics methods reveal the reported similarity between the Ago2 MC sequence region and the eIF4E cap-binding motif to be spurious. Alternatively, the MC sequence region is confidently assigned to the N-terminus of the Ago piwi module, within the mid domain of experimentally determined prokaryotic Ago structures. Confident mapping of the Ago2 MC sequence region to the piwi mid domain results in a homology-based structure model that positions the identified aromatic residues over 20 Å apart, with one of the aromatic side chains (F450) contributing instead to the hydrophobic core of the domain.
Correct functional prediction based on weak sequence similarity requires substantial evolutionary and structural support. The evolutionary context of the Ago mid domain suggested by multiple sequence alignment is limited to a conserved hydrophobicity profile required for the fold and a motif following the MC region that binds guide RNA. Mapping of the MC sequence to the mid domain structure reveals Ago2 aromatics that are incompatible with eIF4E-like mRNA cap-binding, yet display some limited local structure similarities that cause the chance sequence match to eIF4E.
This article was reviewed by Arcady Mushegian, Chris Ponting, and Igor Jouline (nominated by Igor Zhulin).
PMCID: PMC2636766  PMID: 19159466
3.  A putative RNA-interference-based immune system in prokaryotes: computational analysis of the predicted enzymatic machinery, functional analogies with eukaryotic RNAi, and hypothetical mechanisms of action 
Biology Direct  2006;1:7.
All archaeal and many bacterial genomes contain Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindrome Repeats (CRISPR) and variable arrays of the CRISPR-associated (cas) genes that have been previously implicated in a novel form of DNA repair on the basis of comparative analysis of their protein product sequences. However, the proximity of CRISPR and cas genes strongly suggests that they have related functions which is hard to reconcile with the repair hypothesis.
The protein sequences of the numerous cas gene products were classified into ~25 distinct protein families; several new functional and structural predictions are described. Comparative-genomic analysis of CRISPR and cas genes leads to the hypothesis that the CRISPR-Cas system (CASS) is a mechanism of defense against invading phages and plasmids that functions analogously to the eukaryotic RNA interference (RNAi) systems. Specific functional analogies are drawn between several components of CASS and proteins involved in eukaryotic RNAi, including the double-stranded RNA-specific helicase-nuclease (dicer), the endonuclease cleaving target mRNAs (slicer), and the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. However, none of the CASS components is orthologous to its apparent eukaryotic functional counterpart. It is proposed that unique inserts of CRISPR, some of which are homologous to fragments of bacteriophage and plasmid genes, function as prokaryotic siRNAs (psiRNA), by base-pairing with the target mRNAs and promoting their degradation or translation shutdown. Specific hypothetical schemes are developed for the functioning of the predicted prokaryotic siRNA system and for the formation of new CRISPR units with unique inserts encoding psiRNA conferring immunity to the respective newly encountered phages or plasmids. The unique inserts in CRISPR show virtually no similarity even between closely related bacterial strains which suggests their rapid turnover, on evolutionary scale. Corollaries of this finding are that, even among closely related prokaryotes, the most commonly encountered phages and plasmids are different and/or that the dominant phages and plasmids turn over rapidly.
We proposed previously that Cas proteins comprise a novel DNA repair system. The association of the cas genes with CRISPR and, especially, the presence, in CRISPR units, of unique inserts homologous to phage and plasmid genes make us abandon this hypothesis. It appears most likely that CASS is a prokaryotic system of defense against phages and plasmids that functions via the RNAi mechanism. The functioning of this system seems to involve integration of fragments of foreign genes into archaeal and bacterial chromosomes yielding heritable immunity to the respective agents. However, it appears that this inheritance is extremely unstable on the evolutionary scale such that the repertoires of unique psiRNAs are completely replaced even in closely related prokaryotes, presumably, in response to rapidly changing repertoires of dominant phages and plasmids.
This article was reviewed by: Eric Bapteste, Patrick Forterre, and Martijn Huynen.
Open peer review
Reviewed by Eric Bapteste, Patrick Forterre, and Martijn Huynen.
For the full reviews, please go to the Reviewers' comments section.
PMCID: PMC1462988  PMID: 16545108

Results 1-3 (3)