Evolution of proteins of the cystatin superfamily

J Mol Evol. 1990 Jan;30(1):60-71. doi: 10.1007/BF02102453.


We have examined the amino acid sequences of a number of proteins that have been suggested to be related to chicken cystatin, a protein from chicken egg white that inhibits cysteine proteinases. On the basis of statistical analysis, the following proteins were found to be members of the cystatin superfamily: human cystatin A, rat cystatin A(alpha), human cystatin B, rat cystatin B(beta), rice cystatin, human cystatin C, ox colostrum cystatin, human cystatin S, human cystatin SA, human cystatin SN, chicken cystatin, puff adder cystatin, human kininogen, ox kininogen, rat kininogen, rat T-kininogens 1 and 2, human alpha 2HS-glycoprotein, and human histidine-rich glycoprotein. Fibronectin is shown not to be a member of this superfamily, and the c-Ha-ras oncogene protein p21 (Val-12) probably is not a member also. It was convenient to divide members of the superfamily into four types on the basis of the presence of one, two, or three copies of cystatin-like segments and the presence or absence of disulfide bonds. Evolutionary dendrograms were calculated by three methods, and from these we have constructed a scheme depicting the sequence of events in the evolution of these proteins. We suggest that about 1000 million years ago a precursor containing disulfide loops appeared, and that all disulfide-containing cystatins are derived from this. We follow the evolution of the proteins of the superfamily along four main lineages, with special attention to the part that duplication of segments has played in the development of the more complex molecules.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cystatins / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid


  • Cystatins