Background: Synaptotagmin proteins were first identified in nervous tissue, residing in synaptic vesicles. Synaptotagmins were subsequently found to form a large family, some members of which play important roles in calcium triggered exocytic events. These members have been investigated intensively, but other family members are not well understood, making it difficult to grasp the meaning of family membership in functional terms. Further difficulty arises as families are defined quite legitimately in different ways: by common descent or by common possession of distinguishing features. One definition does not necessarily imply the other. The evolutionary range of genome sequences now available, can shed more light on synaptotagmin gene phylogeny and clarify family relationships. The aim of compiling this open access collection of synaptotagmin and synaptotagmin-like sequences, is that its use may lead to greater understanding of the biological function of these proteins in an evolutionary context.
Results: 46 metazoan genomes were examined and their complement of Syt, Esyt, Rph3a, Rph3al, Doc2 and Dblc2 genes identified. All of the sequences were compared, named, then examined in detail. Esyt genes were formerly named Fam62. The species in this collection are Trichoplax, Nematostella, Capitella, Helobdella, Lottia, Ciona, Strongylocentrotus, Branchiostoma, Ixodes, Daphnia, Acyrthosiphon, Tribolium, Nasonia, Apis, Anopheles, Drosophila, Caenorhabditis, Takifugu, Tetraodon, Gasterosteus, Oryzias, Danio, Xenopus, Anolis, Gallus, Taeniopygia,Ornithorhynchus, Monodelphis, Mus and Homo. All of the data described in this paper is available as additional files.
Conclusions: Only a subset of synaptotagmin proteins appear able to function as calcium triggers. Syt1, Syt7 and Syt9 are ancient conserved synaptotagmins of this type. Some animals carry extensive repertoires of synaptotagmin genes. Other animals of no less complexity, carry only a small repertoire. Current understanding does not explain why this is so. The biological roles of many synaptotagmins remain to be understood. This collection of genes offers prospects for fruitful speculation about the functional roles of the synaptotagmin repertoires of different animals and includes a great range of biological complexity. With reference to this gene collection, functional relationships among Syt, Esyt, Rph3a, Rph3al, Doc2 and Dblc2 genes, which encode similar proteins, can better be assessed in future.