The carboxylesterase/cholinesterase gene family in invertebrate deuterostomes
Carboxylesterase/cholinesterase family members are responsible for controlling the nerve impulse, detoxification and various developmental functions, and are a major target of pesticides and chemical warfare agents. Comparative structural analysis of these enzymes is thus important. The invertebrate deuterostomes (phyla Echinodermata and Hemichordata and subphyla Urochordata and Cephalochordata) lie in the transition zone between invertebrates and vertebrates, and are thus of interest to the study of evolution. Here we have investigated the carboxylesterase/cholinesterase gene family in the sequenced genomes of Strongylocentrotus purpuratus (Echinodermata), Saccoglossus kowalevskii (Hemichordata), Ciona intestinalis (Urochordata) and Branchiostoma floridae (Cephalochordata), using sequence analysis of the catalytic apparatus and oligomerisation domains, and phylogenetic analysis. All four genomes show blurring of structural boundaries between cholinesterases and carboxylesterases, with many intermediate enzymes. Non-enzymatic proteins are well represented. The Saccoglossus and Branchiostoma genomes show evidence of extensive gene duplication and retention. There is also evidence of domain shuffling, resulting in multidomain proteins consisting either of multiple carboxylesterase domains, or of carboxylesterase/ cholinesterase domains linked to other domains, including RING finger, chitin-binding, immunoglobulin, fibronectin type 3, CUB, cysteine-rich-Frizzled, caspase activation and 7tm-1, amongst others. Such gene duplication and domain shuffling in the carboxylesterase/cholinesterase family appears to be unique to the invertebrate deuterostomes, and we hypothesise that these factors may have contributed to the evolution of the morphological complexity, particularly of the nervous system and neural crest, of the vertebrates. © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.