Background: In eukaryotes, PPP (protein phosphatase P) family is one of the two known protein phosphatase families specific for Ser and Thr. The role of PPP phosphatases in multiple signaling pathways in eukaryotic cell has been extensively studied. Unlike eukaryotic PPP phosphatases, bacterial members of the family have broad substrate specificity or may even be Tyr-specific. Moreover, one group of bacterial PPPs are diadenosine tetraphosphatases, indicating that bacterial PPP phosphatases may not necessarily function as protein phosphatases.
Results: We describe the presence in eukaryotes of three groups of expressed genes encoding "non-conventional" phosphatases of the PPP family. These enzymes are more closely related to bacterial PPP phosphatases than to the known eukaryotic members of the family. One group, found exclusively in land plants, is most closely related to PPP phosphatases from some alpha-Proteobacteria, including Rhizobiales, Rhodobacterales and Rhodospirillaceae. This group is therefore termed Rhizobiales / Rhodobacterales / Rhodospirillaceae-like phosphatases, or Rhilphs. Phosphatases of the other group are found in Viridiplantae, Rhodophyta, Trypanosomatidae, Plasmodium and some fungi. They are structurally related to phosphatases from psychrophilic bacteria Shewanella and Colwellia, and are termed Shewanella-like phosphatases, or Shelphs. Phosphatases of the third group are distantly related to ApaH, bacterial diadenosine tetraphosphatases, and are termed ApaH-like phosphatases, or Alphs. Patchy distribution of Alphs in animals, plants, fungi, diatoms and kinetoplasts suggests that these phosphatases were present in the common ancestor of eukaryotes but were independently lost in many lineages. Rhilphs, Shelphs and Alphs form PPP clades, as divergent from "conventional" eukaryotic PPP phosphatases as they are from each other and from major bacterial clades. In addition, comparison of primary structures revealed a previously unrecognised (I/L/V)D(S/T)G motif, conserved in all bacterial and "bacterial-like" eukaryotic PPPs, but not in "conventional" eukaryotic and archaeal PPPs.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that many eukaryotes possess diverse "bacterial-like" PPP phosphatases, the enzymatic characteristics, physiological roles and precise evolutionary history of which have yet to be determined.