Evolution of circular permutations in multidomain proteins

Mol Biol Evol. 2006 Apr;23(4):734-43. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msj091. Epub 2006 Jan 23.


Modular rearrangements play an important role in protein evolution. Functional modules, often tantamount to structural domains or smaller fragments, are in many cases well conserved but reoccur in a different order and across many protein families. The underlying genetic mechanisms are gene duplication, fusion, and loss of sequence fragments. As a consequence, the sequential order of domains can be inverted, leading to what is known as circularly permutated proteins. Using a recently developed algorithm, we have identified a large number of such rearrangements and analyzed their evolutionary history. We searched for examples which have arisen by one of the three postulated mechanisms: independent fusion/fission, "duplication/deletion," and plasmid-mediated "cut and paste." We conclude that all three mechanisms can be observed, with the independent fusion/fission being the most frequent. This can be partly attributed to highly mobile domains. Duplication/deletion has been found in modular proteins such as peptide synthases.

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Binding Sites
  • DNA, Circular / genetics
  • Databases, Protein
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Multigene Family*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics*
  • Proteins / genetics*


  • DNA, Circular
  • Proteins