Ig-like domains on bacteriophages: a tale of promiscuity and deceit

J Mol Biol. 2006 Jun 2;359(2):496-507. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2006.03.043. Epub 2006 Apr 6.


The immunoglobulin (Ig) fold is one of the most important structures in biology, playing essential roles in the vertebrate immune response, cell adhesion, and many other processes. Through bioinformatic analysis, we have discovered that Ig-like domains are often found in the constituent proteins of tailed double-stranded (ds) DNA bacteriophage particles, and are likely displayed on the surface of these viruses. These phage Ig-like domains fall into three distinct sequence families, which are similar to the classic immunoglobulin domain (I-Set), the fibronectin type 3 repeat (FN3), and the bacterial Ig-like domain (Big2). The phage Ig-like domains are very promiscuous. They are attached to more than ten different functional classes of proteins, and found in all three morphogenetic classes of tailed dsDNA phages. In addition, they reside in phages that infect a diverse set of gram negative and gram positive bacteria. These domains are deceptive because many are added to larger proteins through programmed ribosomal frameshifting, so that they are not always detected by standard protein sequence searching procedures. In addition, the presence of unrecognized Ig-like domains in a variety of phage proteins with different functions has led to gene misannotation. Our results demonstrate that horizontal gene transfer involving Ig-like domain encoding DNA has occurred commonly between diverse classes of both lytic and temperate phages, which otherwise display very limited sequence similarities to one another. We suggest that phage may have been an important vector in the spread of Ig-like domains through diverse species of bacteria. While the function of the phage Ig-like domains is unknown, several lines of evidence suggest that they may play an accessory role in phage infection by weakly interacting with carbohydrates on the bacterial cell surface.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Bacteriophages / chemistry
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Computational Biology*
  • Immunoglobulins / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Conformation*
  • Protein Folding
  • Ribosomes / genetics
  • Ribosomes / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Viral Proteins / chemistry


  • Immunoglobulins
  • Viral Proteins