Background: Large surface loops contained within compact protein structures and not involved in catalytic process have been proposed as preferred regions for protein family evolution. These loops are subjected to lower sequence constraints and can evolve rapidly in novel structural variants. A good model to study this hypothesis is represented by sialidase enzymes. Indeed, the structure of sialidases is a β-propeller composed by anti-parallel β-sheets connected by loops that suit well with the rapid evolving loop hypothesis. These features prompted us to extend our studies on this protein family in birds, to get insights on the evolution of this class of glycohydrolases.
Results: Gallus gallus (Gg) genome contains one NEU3 gene encoding a protein with a unique 188 amino acid sequence mainly constituted by a peptide motif repeated six times in tandem with no homology with any other known protein sequence. The repeat region is located at the same position as the roughly 80 amino acid loop characteristic of mammalian NEU4. Based on molecular modeling, all these sequences represent a connecting loop between the first two highly conserved β-strands of the fifth blade of the sialidase β-propeller. Moreover this loop is highly variable in sequence and size in NEU3 sialidases from other vertebrates. Finally, we found that the general enzymatic properties and subcellular localization of Gg NEU3 are not influenced by the deletion of the repeat sequence.
Conclusion: In this study we demonstrated that sialidase protein structure contains a surface loop, highly variable both in sequence and size, connecting two conserved β-sheets and emerging on the opposite site of the catalytic crevice. These data confirm that sialidase family can serve as suitable model for the study of the evolutionary process based on rapid evolving loops, which may had occurred in sialidases. Giving the peculiar organization of the loop region identified in Gg NEU3, this protein can be considered of particular interest in such evolutionary studies and to get deeper insights in sialidase evolution.