Background: Rab small GTPases are important mediators of membrane transport, and orthologues frequently retain similar locations and functions, even between highly divergent taxa. In metazoan organisms Rab23 is an important negative regulator of Sonic hedgehog signaling and is crucial for correct development and differentiation of cellular lineages by virtue of an involvement in ciliary recycling. Previously, we reported that Trypanosoma brucei Rab23 localized to the nuclear envelope 1, which is clearly inconsistent with the mammalian location and function. As T. brucei is unicellular the potential that Rab23 has no role in cell signaling was possible. Here we sought to further investigate the role(s) of Rab23 in T. brucei to determine if Rab23 was an example of a Rab protein with divergent function in distinct taxa.
Methods/major findings: The taxonomic distribution of Rab23 was examined and compared with the presence of flagella/cilia in representative taxa. Despite evidence for considerable secondary loss, we found a clear correlation between a conventional flagellar structure and the presence of a Rab23 orthologue in the genome. By epitope-tagging, Rab23 was localized and found to be present at the flagellum throughout the cell cycle. However, RNAi knockdown did not result in a flagellar defect, suggesting that Rab23 is not required for construction or maintenance of the flagellum.
Conclusions: The location of Rab23 at the flagellum is conserved between mammals and trypanosomes and the Rab23 gene is restricted to flagellated organisms. These data may suggest the presence of a Rab23-mediated signaling mechanism in trypanosomes.