Background: Dihydrouridine (D) is a modified base found in conserved positions in the D-loop of tRNA in Bacteria, Eukaryota, and some Archaea. Despite the abundant occurrence of D, little is known about its biochemical roles in mediating tRNA function. It is assumed that D may destabilize the structure of tRNA and thus enhance its conformational flexibility. D is generated post-transcriptionally by the reduction of the 5,6-double bond of a uridine residue in RNA transcripts. The reaction is carried out by dihydrouridine synthases (DUS). DUS constitute a conserved family of enzymes encoded by the orthologous gene family COG0042. In protein sequence databases, members of COG0042 are typically annotated as "predicted TIM-barrel enzymes, possibly dehydrogenases, nifR3 family".
Results: To elucidate sequence-structure-function relationships in the DUS family, a comprehensive bioinformatic analysis was carried out. We performed extensive database searches to identify all members of the currently known DUS family, followed by clustering analysis to subdivide it into subfamilies of closely related sequences. We analyzed phylogenetic distributions of all members of the DUS family and inferred the evolutionary tree, which suggested a scenario for the evolutionary origin of dihydrouridine-forming enzymes. For a human representative of the DUS family, the hDus2 protein suggested as a potential drug target in cancer, we generated a homology model. While this article was under review, a crystal structure of a DUS representative has been published, giving us an opportunity to validate the model.
Conclusions: We compared sequences and phylogenetic distributions of all members of the DUS family and inferred the phylogenetic tree, which provides a framework to study the functional differences among these proteins and suggests a scenario for the evolutionary origin of dihydrouridine formation. Our evolutionary and structural classification of the DUS family provides a background to study functional differences among these proteins that will guide experimental analyses.