Molecular characterization and phylogenetic relationships of a protein with potential oxygen-binding capabilities in the grasshopper embryo. A hemocyanin in insects?

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Arthropodan hemocyanins, prophenoloxidases (PPOs), and insect hexamerins form a superfamily of hemolymph proteins that we propose to call the AHPH superfamily. The evolutionary and functional relationships of these proteins are illuminated by a new embryonic hemolymph protein (EHP) that is expressed during early stages of development in the grasshopper embryo. EHP is a 78-kDa soluble protein present initially in the yolk sac content, and later in the embryonic hemolymph. Protein purification and peptide sequencing were used to identify an embryonic cDNA clone coding for EHP. In situ hybridization identifies hemocytes as EHP-expressing cells. As deduced from the cDNA clone, EHP is a secreted protein with two potential glycosylation sites. Sequence analysis defines EHP as a member of the AHPH superfamily. Phylogenetic analyses with all the currently available AHPH proteins, including EHP, were performed to ascertain the evolutionary history of this protein superfamily. We used both the entire protein sequence and each of the three domains present in the AHPH proteins. The phylogenies inferred for each of the domains suggest a mosaic evolution of these protein modules. Phylogenetic and multivariate analyses consistently group EHP with crustacean hemocyanins and, less closely, with insect hexamerins, relative to cheliceratan hemocyanins and PPOs. The grasshopper protein rigorously preserves the residues involved in oxygen binding, oligomerization, and allosteric regulation of the oxygen transport proteins. Although insects were thought not to have hemocyanins, we propose that EHP functions as an oxygen transport or storage protein during embryonic development.

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