Ferlins are a family of multiple C2 domain proteins with emerging roles in vesicle fusion and membrane trafficking. Ferlin mutations are associated with muscular dystrophy (dysferlin) and deafness (otoferlin) in humans, and infertility in Caenorhabditis elegans (Fer-1) and Drosophila (misfire), demonstrating their importance for normal cellular functioning. Ferlins show ancient origins in eukaryotic evolution and are detected in all eukaryotic kingdoms, including unicellular eukaryotes and apicomplexian protists, suggesting origins in a common ancestor predating eukaryotic evolutionary branching. The characteristic feature of the ferlin family is their multiple tandem cytosolic C2 domains (five to seven C2 domains), the most of any protein family, and an extremely rare feature amongst eukaryotic proteins. Ferlins also bear a unique nested DysF domain and small conserved 60-70 residue ferlin-specific sequences (Fer domains). Ferlins segregate into two subtypes based on the presence (type I ferlin) or absence (type II ferlin) of the DysF and FerA domains. Ferlins have diverse tissue-specific and developmental expression patterns, with ferlin animal models united by pathologies arising from defects in vesicle fusion. Consistent with their proposed role in vesicle trafficking, ferlin interaction partners include cytoskeletal motors, other vesicle-associated trafficking proteins and transmembrane receptors or channels. Herein we summarize the research history of the ferlins, an intriguing family of structurally conserved proteins with a preserved ancestral function as regulators of vesicle fusion and receptor trafficking.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.