Birgit Eisenhaber, Swati Sinha, Wing-Cheong Wong & Frank Eisenhaber (2018) Function of a membrane-embedded domain evolutionarily multiplied in the GPI lipid anchor pathway proteins PIG-B, PIG-M, PIG-U, PIG-W, PIG-V, and PIG-Z, Cell Cycle, 17:7, 874-880, DOI: 10.1080/15384101.2018.1456294
Distant homology relationships among proteins with many transmembrane regions (TMs) are difficult to detect as they are clouded by the TMs’ hydrophobic compositional bias and mutational divergence in connecting loops. In the case of several GPI lipid anchor biosynthesis pathway components, the hidden evolutionary signal can be revealed with dissectHMMER, a sequence similarity search tool focusing on fold-critical, high complexity sequence segments. We find that a sequence module with 10 TMs in PIG-W, described as acyl transferase, is homologous to PIG-U, a transamidase subunit without characterized molecular function, and to mannosyltransferases PIG-B, PIG-M, PIG-V and PIG-Z. We conclude that this new, membrane-embedded domain named BindGPILA functions as the unit for recognizing, binding and stabilizing the GPI lipid anchor in a modification-competent form as this appears the only functional aspect shared among all proteins. Thus, PIG-U's likely molecular function is shuttling/presenting the anchor in a productive conformation to the transamidase complex.