Classification and evolution of P-loop GTPases and related ATPases

J Mol Biol. 2002 Mar 15;317(1):41-72. doi: 10.1006/jmbi.2001.5378.


Sequences and available structures were compared for all the widely distributed representatives of the P-loop GTPases and GTPase-related proteins with the aim of constructing an evolutionary classification for this superclass of proteins and reconstructing the principal events in their evolution. The GTPase superclass can be divided into two large classes, each of which has a unique set of sequence and structural signatures (synapomorphies). The first class, designated TRAFAC (after translation factors) includes enzymes involved in translation (initiation, elongation, and release factors), signal transduction (in particular, the extended Ras-like family), cell motility, and intracellular transport. The second class, designated SIMIBI (after signal recognition particle, MinD, and BioD), consists of signal recognition particle (SRP) GTPases, the assemblage of MinD-like ATPases, which are involved in protein localization, chromosome partitioning, and membrane transport, and a group of metabolic enzymes with kinase or related phosphate transferase activity. These two classes together contain over 20 distinct families that are further subdivided into 57 subfamilies (ancient lineages) on the basis of conserved sequence motifs, shared structural features, and domain architectures. Ten subfamilies show a universal phyletic distribution compatible with presence in the last universal common ancestor of the extant life forms (LUCA). These include four translation factors, two OBG-like GTPases, the YawG/YlqF-like GTPases (these two subfamilies also consist of predicted translation factors), the two signal-recognition-associated GTPases, and the MRP subfamily of MinD-like ATPases. The distribution of nucleotide specificity among the proteins of the GTPase superclass indicates that the common ancestor of the entire superclass was a GTPase and that a secondary switch to ATPase activity has occurred on several independent occasions during evolution. The functions of most GTPases that are traceable to LUCA are associated with translation. However, in contrast to other superclasses of P-loop NTPases (RecA-F1/F0, AAA+, helicases, ABC), GTPases do not participate in NTP-dependent nucleic acid unwinding and reorganizing activities. Hence, we hypothesize that the ancestral GTPase was an enzyme with a generic regulatory role in translation, with subsequent diversification resulting in acquisition of diverse functions in transport, protein trafficking, and signaling. In addition to the classification of previously known families of GTPases and related ATPases, we introduce several previously undetected families and describe new functional predictions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / chemistry*
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / classification*
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • GTP Phosphohydrolase-Linked Elongation Factors / chemistry
  • GTP Phosphohydrolase-Linked Elongation Factors / classification
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / chemistry*
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / classification*
  • Heterotrimeric GTP-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Heterotrimeric GTP-Binding Proteins / classification
  • Humans
  • Kinesins / chemistry
  • Kinesins / classification
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins / classification
  • Multigene Family / genetics
  • Myosins / chemistry
  • Myosins / classification
  • Phylogeny
  • Protein Conformation
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Signal Recognition Particle / chemistry


  • Signal Recognition Particle
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • GTP Phosphohydrolase-Linked Elongation Factors
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • Myosins
  • Kinesins
  • Heterotrimeric GTP-Binding Proteins
  • Monomeric GTP-Binding Proteins