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The Tubulin Superfamily in Apicomplexan Parasites


Microtubules and specialized microtubule-containing structures are assembled from tubulins, an ancient superfamily of essential eukaryotic proteins. Here, we use bioinformatic approaches to analyze features of tubulins in organisms from the phylum Apicomplexa. Apicomplexans are protozoan parasites that cause a variety of human and animal infectious diseases. Individual species harbor one to four genes each for α- and β-tubulin isotypes. These may specify highly similar proteins, suggesting functional redundancy, or exhibit key differences, consistent with specialized roles. Some, but not all apicomplexans harbor genes for δ- and ε-tubulins, which are found in organisms that construct appendage-containing basal bodies. Critical roles for apicomplexan δ- and ε-tubulin are likely to be limited to microgametes, consistent with a restricted requirement for flagella in a single developmental stage. Sequence divergence or the loss of δ- and ε-tubulin genes in other apicomplexans appears to be associated with diminished requirements for centrioles, basal bodies, and axonemes. Finally, because spindle microtubules and flagellar structures have been proposed as targets for anti-parasitic therapies and transmission-blocking strategies, we discuss these ideas in the context of tubulin-based structures and tubulin superfamily properties.

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