Background: Mitochondrial porins, or voltage-dependent anion-selective channels (VDAC) allow the passage of small molecules across the mitochondrial outer membrane, and are involved in complex interactions regulating organellar and cellular metabolism. Numerous organisms possess multiple porin isoforms, and initial studies indicated an intriguing evolutionary history for these proteins and the genes that encode them.
Results: In this work, the wealth of recent sequence information was used to perform a comprehensive analysis of the evolutionary history of mitochondrial porins. Fungal porin sequences were well represented, and newly-released sequences from stramenopiles, alveolates, and seed and flowering plants were analyzed. A combination of Neighbour-Joining and Bayesian methods was used to determine phylogenetic relationships among the proteins. The aligned sequences were also used to reassess the validity of previously described eukaryotic porin motifs and to search for signature sequences characteristic of VDACs from plants, animals and fungi. Secondary structure predictions were performed on the aligned VDAC primary sequences and were used to evaluate the sites of intron insertion in a representative set of the corresponding VDAC genes.
Conclusion: Our phylogenetic analysis clearly shows that paralogs have appeared several times during the evolution of VDACs from the plants, metazoans, and even the fungi, suggesting that there are no "ancient" paralogs within the gene family. Sequence motifs characteristic of the members of the crown groups of organisms were identified. Secondary structure predictions suggest a common 16 beta-strand framework for the transmembrane arrangement of all porin isoforms. The GLK (and homologous or analogous motifs) and the eukaryotic porin motifs in the four representative Chordates tend to be in exons that appear to have changed little during the evolution of these metazoans. In fact there is phase correlation among the introns in these genes. Finally, our preliminary data support the notion that introns usually do not interrupt structural protein motifs, namely the predicted beta-strands. These observations concur with the concept of exon shuffling, wherein exons encode structural modules of proteins and the loss and gain of introns and the shuffling of exons via recombination events contribute to the complexity of modern day proteomes.