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Characterization of the Tetraspan Junctional Complex (4JC) superfamily


Connexins or innexins form gap junctions, while claudins and occludins form tight junctions. In this study, statistical data, derived using novel software, indicate that these four junctional protein families and eleven other families of channel and channel auxiliary proteins are related by common descent and comprise the Tetraspan (4 TMS) Junctional Complex (4JC) Superfamily. These proteins all share similar 4 transmembrane α-helical (TMS) topologies. Evidence is presented that they arose via an intragenic duplication event, whereby a 2 TMS-encoding genetic element duplicated tandemly to give 4 TMS proteins. In cases where high resolution structural data were available, the conclusion of homology was supported by conducting structural comparisons. Phylogenetic trees reveal the probable relationships of these 15 families to each other. Long homologues containing fusions to other recognizable domains as well as internally duplicated or fused domains are reported. Large "fusion" proteins containing 4JC domains proved to fall predominantly into family-specific patterns as follows: (1) the 4JC domain was N-terminal; (2) the 4JC domain was C-terminal; (3) the 4JC domain was duplicated or occasionally triplicated and (4) mixed fusion types were present. Our observations provide insight into the evolutionary origins and subfunctions of these proteins as well as guides concerning their structural and functional relationships.

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