The animal sialyltransferases and sialyltransferase-related genes: a phylogenetic approach

Glycobiology. 2005 Aug;15(8):805-17. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwi063. Epub 2005 Apr 20.


The animal sialyltransferases are Golgi type II transmembrane glycosyltransferases. Twenty distinct sialyltransferases have been identified in both human and murine genomes. These enzymes catalyze transfer of sialic acid from CMP-Neu5Ac to the glycan moiety of glycoconjugates. Despite low overall identities, they share four conserved peptide motifs [L (large), S (small), motif III, and motif VS (very small)] that are hallmarks for sialyltransferase identification. We have identified 155 new putative genes in 25 animal species, and we have exploited two lines of evidence: (1) sequence comparisons and (2) exon-intron organization of the genes. An ortholog to the ancestor present before the split of ST6Gal I and II subfamilies was detected in arthropods. An ortholog to the ancestor present before the split of ST6GalNAc III, IV, V, and VI subfamilies was detected in sea urchin. An ortholog to the ancestor present before the split of ST3Gal I and II subfamilies was detected in ciona, and an ortholog to the ancestor of all the ST8Sia was detected in amphioxus. Therefore, single examples of the four families (ST3Gal, ST6Gal, ST6GalNAc, and ST8Sia) have appeared in invertebrates, earlier than previously thought, whereas the four families were all detected in bony fishes, amphibians, birds, and mammals. As previously hypothesized, sequence similarities among sialyltransferases suggest a common genetic origin, by successive duplications of an ancestral gene, followed by divergent evolution. Finally, we propose predictions on these invertebrates sialyltransferase-related activities that have not previously been demonstrated and that will ultimately need to be substantiated by protein expression and enzymatic activity assays.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Multigene Family*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Sialyltransferases / chemistry
  • Sialyltransferases / genetics*


  • CMP-N-acetylneuraminate-poly-alpha-2,8-sialosyl sialyltransferase
  • Sialyltransferases
  • beta-D-galactoside alpha 2-6-sialyltransferase
  • CMP-N-acetylneuraminate-alpha-N-acetylgalactosaminide alpha-2,6-sialyltransferase
  • beta-galactoside alpha-2,3-sialyltransferase