Evolution of cytomotive filaments: the cytoskeleton from prokaryotes to eukaryotes

Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Feb;41(2):323-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biocel.2008.08.010. Epub 2008 Aug 13.


The basic features of the active filaments that use nucleotide hydrolysis to organise the cytoplasm are remarkably similar in the majority of all cells and are either actin-like or tubulin-like. Nearly all prokaryotic cells contain at least one form of FtsZ, the prokaryotic homologue of tubulin and some bacterial plasmids use tubulin-like TubZ for segregation. The other main family of active filaments, assembled from actin-like proteins, occurs in a wide range of bacterial species as well as in all eukaryotes. Some bacterial plasmids also use ParM, another actin-like protein. Higher-order filament structures vary from simple to complex depending on the cellular application. Equally, filament-associated proteins vary greatly between species and it is not possible currently to trace their evolution from prokaryotes to eukaryotes. This lack of similarity except in the three-dimensional structures and longitudinal interactions between the filament subunits hints that the most basic cellular function of the filaments is to act as linear motors driven by assembly dynamics and/or bending and hence we term these filament systems 'cytomotive'. The principle of cytomotive filaments seems to have been invented independently for actin- and tubulin-like proteins. Prokaryotes appear to have a third class of cytomotive filaments, typically associated with surfaces such as membranes or DNA: Walker A cytoskeletal ATPases (WACA). A possible evolutionary relationship of WACAs with eukaryotic septins is discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / chemistry
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / ultrastructure
  • Cytoskeleton / chemistry
  • Cytoskeleton / genetics*
  • Eukaryotic Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Prokaryotic Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Tubulin / chemistry
  • Tubulin / genetics
  • Tubulin / ultrastructure


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Tubulin