Distinct Protein Classes in Human Red Cell Proteome Revealed by Similarity of Phylogenetic Profiles

The minimal set of proteins necessary to maintain a vertebrate cell forms an interesting core of cellular machinery. The known proteome of human red blood cell consists of about 1400 proteins. We treated this protein complement of one of the simplest human cells as a model and asked the questions on its function and origins. The proteome was mapped onto phylogenetic profiles, i.e. vectors of species possessing homologues of human proteins. A novel clustering approach was devised, utilising similarity in the phylogenetic spread of homologues as distance measure. The clustering based on phylogenetic profiles yielded several distinct protein classes differing in phylogenetic taxonomic spread, presumed evolutionary history and functional properties. Notably, small clusters of proteins common to vertebrates or Metazoa and other multicellular eukaryotes involve biological functions specific to multicellular organisms, such as apoptosis or cell-cell signaling, respectively. Also, a eukaryote-specific cluster is identified, featuring GTP-ase signalling and ubiquitination. Another cluster, made up of proteins found in most organisms, including bacteria and archaea, involves basic molecular functions such as oxidation-reduction and glycolysis. Approximately one third of erythrocyte proteins do not fall in any of the clusters, reflecting the complexity of protein evolution in comparison to our simple model. Basically, the clustering obtained divides the proteome into old and new parts, the former originating from bacterial ancestors, the latter from inventions within multicellular eukaryotes. Thus, the model human cell proteome appears to be made up of protein sets distinct in their history and biological roles. The current work shows that phylogenetic profiles concept allows protein clustering in a way relevant both to biological function and evolutionary history.