Citrullination Was Introduced into Animals by Horizontal Gene Transfer from Cyanobacteria

Thomas F M Cummings, Kevin Gori, Luis Sanchez-Pulido, Gavriil Gavriilidis, David Moi, Abigail R Mann (nee Wilson), Elizabeth Murchison, Christophe Dessimoz, Chris P Ponting, Maria A Christophorou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Protein posttranslational modifications add great sophistication to biological systems. Citrullination, a key regulatory mechanism in human physiology and pathophysiology, is enigmatic from an evolutionary perspective. Although the citrullinating enzymes peptidylarginine deiminases (PADIs) are ubiquitous across vertebrates, they are absent from yeast, worms, and flies. Based on this distribution PADIs were proposed to have been horizontally transferred, but this has been contested. Here, we map the evolutionary trajectory of PADIs into the animal lineage. We present strong phylogenetic support for a clade encompassing animal and cyanobacterial PADIs that excludes fungal and other bacterial homologs. The animal and cyanobacterial PADI proteins share functionally relevant primary and tertiary synapomorphic sequences that are distinct from a second PADI type present in fungi and actinobacteria. Molecular clock calculations and sequence divergence analyses using the fossil record estimate the last common ancestor of the cyanobacterial and animal PADIs to be less than 1 billion years old. Additionally, under an assumption of vertical descent, PADI sequence change during this evolutionary time frame is anachronistically low, even when compared with products of likely endosymbiont gene transfer, mitochondrial proteins, and some of the most highly conserved sequences in life. The consilience of evidence indicates that PADIs were introduced from cyanobacteria into animals by horizontal gene transfer (HGT). The ancestral cyanobacterial PADI is enzymatically active and can citrullinate eukaryotic proteins, suggesting that the PADI HGT event introduced a new catalytic capability into the regulatory repertoire of animals. This study reveals the unusual evolution of a pleiotropic protein modification.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermsab317
Number of pages20
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number2
Early online date3 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • citrullination
  • enzyme
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • posttranslational modification


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