Group Title: BMC Biology
Title: The TyrA family of aromatic-pathway dehydrogenases in phylogenetic context
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Title: The TyrA family of aromatic-pathway dehydrogenases in phylogenetic context
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Language: English
Creator: Song, Jian
Bonner, Carol
Wolinsky, Murray
Jensen, Roy
Publisher: BMC Biology
Publication Date: 2005
Abstract: BACKGROUND:The TyrA protein family includes members that catalyze two dehydrogenase reactions in distinct pathways leading to L-tyrosine and a third reaction that is not part of tyrosine biosynthesis. Family members share a catalytic core region of about 30 kDa, where inhibitors operate competitively by acting as substrate mimics. This protein family typifies many that are challenging for bioinformatic analysis because of relatively modest sequence conservation and small size.RESULTS:Phylogenetic relationships of TyrA domains were evaluated in the context of combinatorial patterns of specificity for the two substrates, as well as the presence or absence of a variety of fusions. An interactive tool is provided for prediction of substrate specificity. Interactive alignments for a suite of catalytic-core TyrA domains of differing specificity are also provided to facilitate phylogenetic analysis. tyrA membership in apparent operons (or supraoperons) was examined, and patterns of conserved synteny in relationship to organismal positions on the 16S rRNA tree were ascertained for members of the domain Bacteria. A number of aromatic-pathway genes (hisHb, aroF, aroQ) have fused with tyrA, and it must be more than coincidental that the free-standing counterparts of all of the latter fused genes exhibit a distinct trace of syntenic association.CONCLUSION:We propose that the ancestral TyrA dehydrogenase had broad specificity for both the cyclohexadienyl and pyridine nucleotide substrates. Indeed, TyrA proteins of this type persist today, but it is also common to find instances of narrowed substrate specificities, as well as of acquisition via gene fusion of additional catalytic domains or regulatory domains. In some clades a qualitative change associated with either narrowed substrate specificity or gene fusion has produced an evolutionary "jump" in the vertical genealogy of TyrA homologs. The evolutionary history of gene organizations that include tyrA can be deduced in genome assemblages of sufficiently close relatives, the most fruitful opportunities currently being in the Proteobacteria. The evolution of TyrA proteins within the broader context of how their regulation evolved and to what extent TyrA co-evolved with other genes as common members of aromatic-pathway regulons is now feasible as an emerging topic of ongoing inquiry.
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BMC Biology ioMed Central

Research article

The TyrA family of aromatic-pathway dehydrogenases in
phylogenetic context
Jian Song* 1, Carol A Bonner2, Murray Wolinskyl and Roy A Jensen1,2

Address: 'Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, 87545, USA and 2Emerson Hall, University of Florida, P.O. Box 14425,
Gainesville, Florida, 32604-2425, USA
Email: Jian Song*; Carol A Bonner; Murray Wolinsky; Roy A Jensen
* Corresponding author

Published: 12 May 2005 Received: 19 February 2005
BMC Biology 2005, 3:13 doi:10.1 186/1741-7007-3-13 Accepted: 12 May 2005
This article is available from:
2005 Song et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Background: The TyrA protein family includes members that catalyze two dehydrogenase
reactions in distinct pathways leading to L-tyrosine and a third reaction that is not part of tyrosine
biosynthesis. Family members share a catalytic core region of about 30 kDa, where inhibitors
operate competitively by acting as substrate mimics. This protein family typifies many that are
challenging for bioinformatic analysis because of relatively modest sequence conservation and small
Results: Phylogenetic relationships of TyrA domains were evaluated in the context of
combinatorial patterns of specificity for the two substrates, as well as the presence or absence of
a variety of fusions. An interactive tool is provided for prediction of substrate specificity. Interactive
alignments for a suite of catalytic-core TyrA domains of differing specificity are also provided to
facilitate phylogenetic analysis. tyrA membership in apparent operons (or supraoperons) was
examined, and patterns of conserved synteny in relationship to organismal positions on the I 6S
rRNA tree were ascertained for members of the domain Bacteria. A number of aromatic-pathway
genes (hisHb, aroF, aroQ) have fused with tyrA, and it must be more than coincidental that the free-
standing counterparts of all of the latter fused genes exhibit a distinct trace of syntenic association.
Conclusion: We propose that the ancestral TyrA dehydrogenase had broad specificity for both
the cyclohexadienyl and pyridine nucleotide substrates. Indeed, TyrA proteins of this type persist
today, but it is also common to find instances of narrowed substrate specificities, as well as of
acquisition via gene fusion of additional catalytic domains or regulatory domains. In some clades a
qualitative change associated with either narrowed substrate specificity or gene fusion has
produced an evolutionary "jump" in the vertical genealogy of TyrA homologs. The evolutionary
history of gene organizations that include tyrA can be deduced in genome assemblages of sufficiently
close relatives, the most fruitful opportunities currently being in the Proteobacteria. The evolution
of TyrA proteins within the broader context of how their regulation evolved and to what extent
TyrA co-evolved with other genes as common members of aromatic-pathway regulons is now
feasible as an emerging topic of ongoing inquiry.

Page 1 of 30
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Dehydrogenases dedicated to L-tyrosine (TYR) biosynthe-
sis comprise a family ofTyrA homologs that have different
specificities for the cyclohexadienyl substrate: ones spe-
cific for L-arogenate (AGN), ones specific for prephenate
(PPA), and those that are able to use both [1,2]. Figure 1
illustrates the biochemical relationship of these specifici-
ties to divergent transformations beginning with choris-
mate (CHA) utilization and converging on TYR
formation. Compounding this complexity, a given TyrA
enzyme having any of the aforementioned cyclohexadi-
enyl specificities may be specific for NAD+ or NADP+, or
may use both. This is consistent with a growing apprecia-
tion [3,4] that different substrate specificities are often
accommodated across a given protein family that never-
theless maintains a common scaffold of fundamental
reaction chemistry. Even within the single category of
broad TyrA specificity, there is a continuum ranging from
examples where alternative substrates are accepted
equally well to other cases where one substrate may be
preferred by an order of magnitude or more. Table 1 pro-
vides a key to the nomenclature used to identify the vari-
ous possible substrate-utilization combinations (both
cyclohexadienyl and pyridine nucleotide) exhibited by
TyrA proteins.

The TyrA family is typical of many protein families in that
its members have a relatively small core domain that is
not highly conserved. As such, substantial challenges for
bioinformatic analysis are posed. Here we have not only
carried out a labor-intensive manual analysis, but we have
also developed tools intended to facilitate and refine fol-
low-on studies of this protein family in the genome era.
The approaches implemented in this study with the TYR
segment of aromatic biosynthesis hopefully can serve as a
template for forthcoming integrant analyses of other path-
way segments of aromatic biosynthesis, and indeed for
metabolic subsystems in general.

This manuscript contains three broad sections. First, the
biochemical and enzymological complexity of the TyrA
protein family is presented in terms of the diversity that
exists in nature with respect to substrate specificity and the
association of the core domain with other catalytic or reg-
ulatory domains. Secondly, the genomic colinear organi-
zation of tyrA genes with other genes is evaluated, i.e., tyrA
is considered in its syntenic context. Thirdly, tyrA is evalu-
ated in its context of regulation. These three sections are
tied together in a framework of evolutionary perspective.

Results and discussion
Background of TyrA diversity
Our evolutionary analysis is limited by the amount of
information that can be managed in a single study, with
the focus fixed upon the domain Bacteria (due to the rela-

tive density of genome representation for Bacteria in the
public databases). However, in order to show where
future expansion of the analysis might lead, the selection
of TyrA proteins in Fig. 2 are from all three domains of
life, i.e., Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya (lower eukaryotes
and higher plants). For practicality of presentation,
numerous orphan (i.e., without close relatives) TyrA
sequences are not shown, and not all members of a given
group are necessarily included. The main purposes of the
radial tree shown in Fig. 2 are: (i) to illustrate that TyrA
proteins of major phylogenetic groupings are generally
congruent with 16S rRNA groupings and (ii) to convey a
snapshot visualization of the overall complexity of the
TyrA protein family from the vantage point of its varied
substrate specificities as well as its multiple fusion

As an illustration of the detailed information that follows,
note that the TyrA sequences from the beta Proteobacteria
at five o'clock in Fig. 2 form a cohesive cluster (termed a
congruencyy group'). In this clade there exists a proposed
ancestral background of broad specificity where either
AGN or PPA in combination with either NAD+ or NADP+
could be used. This profile of broad substrate use (which
can be denoted as NAD(P)TyrAc; see Table 1) generally per-
sists in the beta Proteobacteria. From this background,
narrowed specificities for the AGN/NADP+ couple
emerged once in the lineage represented by Nitrosomonas
europaea (Fig. 2; dark blue line), narrowed specificity for
NAD+ emerged once in species of Neisseria (orange line),
and fusion of tyrAc with aroF (which encodes enolpyru-
vylshikimate-3-P synthase, the sixth enzyme in the com-
mon pathway of aromatic biosynthesis; see [5,6] for
nomenclature used) occurred recently within the Burkhol-
deria lineage. These character-state transformations
appear to occur with relative ease, and independent emer-
gence of the same character states can be seen elsewhere in
the tree.

Phylogenetically congruent TyrA groupings
Multiple alignments of catalytic-core domains
A phylogenetic tree is only as good as the input alignment.
An optimal multiple alignment of TyrA homologs
requires a trimmed set of sequences that corresponds to
the catalytic-core domain. Alignment of sequences with
non-homologous N-terminal fusions (such as with chor-
ismate mutase* (AroQ*), HisHb*, or plant transit pep-
tides*; note the convention of using a bullet to indicate
the fusion point of one domain with another domain)
will make them appear to be more closely related than
they actually are because residues in the non-homologous
N-terminal regions find matches at random. Likewise,
those TyrA sequences with C-terminal fusions (such as
with *AroF, *ACT, or *REG) will appear to be anoma-
lously close to one another. Even enzyme proteins that

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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13


7-V Pap(





#' [PapA]


CH2- C- CO


K .CH2- CH- COO-




/ C\
0 C00-

_00C CII2-C-C00_




A OH +

Figure I
Composite of alternative biochemical routes from chorismate (CHA) to L-tyrosine (TYR) in nature. An antibiotic synthesis
branch from CHA is also shown (dimmed). Here the intermediates shown to intervene between chorismate and pristinamycin
or chloramphenicol are p-aminochorismate (ADC), p-aminoprephenate (ADP), p-aminophenylpyruvate (APP), and p-ami-
nophenylalanine (APA). PPA may be transaminated by prephenate aminotransferase (PAT) to yield L-arogenate (AGN). The
four TyrA homologs and the reactions they catalyze are colored differently. Arogenate dehydrogenase (TyrAa) converts AGN
to TYR. Alternatively, prephenate dehydrogenase (TyrAp) converts PPA to 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate (HPP) which is then
transaminated to TYR via an homolog of TyrB, AspC, HisH, or Tat [49]. A broad-specificity cyclohexadienyl dehydrogenase
(TyrAj) is competent to catalyze either the TyrAa or the TyrAp reaction. PapC converts the 4-amino analog of PPA to the 4-
amino analog of HPP. AroQ, AroH, and AroR are distinct homologs known to exist in nature for performance of the choris-
mate mutase reaction. Other abbreviations: AA, amino acid donor, KA, keto-acid accepter.

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Table I: Abbreviations used to designate substrate specificities of tyrA/TyrA homologs


Gene Gene Product

TyrAc A

Tyr~c A

Description of specificityb

Specificity for cyclohexadienyl substrate is unknown
Broad-specificity cyclohexadienyl dehydrogenase (CDH)
Narrow-specificity prephenate dehydrogenase (PDH)
Broad-specificity cyclohexadienyl dehydrogenase having catalytic-core indels in correlation with an extra-core extension
Narrow-specificity arogenate dehydrogenase (ADH)
TyrA homolog is AGN-specific and NADI-specific
TyrA homolog is AGN-specific and NADP+-specific

NAD(P)tyr NAD(P)TyrAa TyrA homolog is AGN-specific but utilizes either NAD+ or NADPI

xtyrAx xTyrAx

Specificity for both the cyclohexadienyl and pyridine nucleotide substrates is unknown

aAbbreviations in the upper-table (upper 5 rows) indicate the specificities for the cyclohexadienyl substrate. Abbreviations in the lower-table (lower
4 rows) indicate specificities for both cyclohexadienyl (right subscripts) and pyridine nucleotide substrates (left subscripts). Combinations not shown
can be deduced from the examples given, e.g., a TyrA homolog specific for prephenate and NAD+ would be designated NADTyrAp.
bThe abbreviations CDH, PDH, and ADH (shown parenthetically) have been used frequently in the literature.

have much greater sequence conservation and amino-acid
lengths than TyrA proteins cannot reasonably be expected
to yield a protein tree that would be congruent over an
extensive phylogenetic range with the overall 16S rRNA
tree. However, if genome representation is sufficiently
dense within a range of closely related organisms, 16S
rRNA congruency with a given protein can be expected
within that range of organisms provided that (i) the par-
ticular functional role has been retained and (ii) lateral
gene transfer has not occurred to obscure the relationship.
This expectation follows from the outcome of a detailed
analysis of tryptophan-pathway proteins in Bacteria [7,8 ].

Congruency within major clades
TyrA sequences from higher-plant and yeast Eukarya form
cohesive clusters. Genome representation among Archaea
is still relatively limited. (Fig. 2 does reveal, however, that
genes encoding TyrA proteins in Archaea have experienced
various catalytic- and regulatory-domain fusions at least
as frequently as those in Bacteria). Eventual expansion of
both the tryptophan-pathway and tyrosine-pathway anal-
yses to Archaea should be quite interesting.

The great majority of TyrA sequences available are from
Bacteria, and one can see (by inspection of the major
clades supported by high bootstrap values in Fig. 2) a
qualitatively apparent congruence of TyrA-tree sub-sec-
tions with 16S rRNA expectations of vertical genealogy.
Thus, all cyanobacteria possess a NADpTyrAa type of TyrA
enzyme, and this is a very cohesive grouping. A few of the
larger cyanobacterial genomes have a co-existing second
enzyme of the TyrA, A type (discussed in detail later). The
low-GC gram-positive bacteria (Bacillus/Staphylococcus/
Enterococcus/Listeria) exhibit the NADTyrAp pattern of spe-

cificity and also possess a C-terminal domain (ACT) of
allosteric regulation. It is interesting that the TyrAp*ACT
proteins of the Streptococcus lineage (at eight o'clock in Fig.
2) differ from the main low-GC clade in possessing broad
specificity for pyridine nucleotides (as indicated with
black line color). The most parsimonious evolutionary
conclusion would be that in the low-GC gram-positive
grouping, acquisition of the ACT domain and narrowed
specificity for prephenate preceded narrowed specificity
for NAD+. Thus, the latter event occurred after divergence
of the Streptococcus lineage from the remainder of the low-
GC clade. Members of the subclass taxon Actinobacteridae
(mostly actinomycetes) possess AGN-specific TyrA
enzymes (light blue fill color in Fig. 2), but they separate
into two distinct groups that correlate either with broad
specificity for pyridine nucleotides (Actinobacteridae_1) or
a NAD+-specific pattern (Actinobacteridae_2). The Proteo-
bacteria are discussed immediately below.

By far the greatest genomic density available is for Proteo-
bacteria, the group of Bacteria that includes purple bacte-
ria and their relatives. The various divisions of
Proteobacteria, as currently named, lack hierarchical
equivalence. For example, the epsilon and delta divisions
branch from much deeper positions on the phylogenetic
tree than do the alpha Proteobacteria. As genome repre-
sentation expands for epsilon and delta Proteobacteria, it
is probable that these will subdivide to newly named
groupings of approximate hierarchical equivalence with
alpha Proteobacteria. The most recently diverged Proteo-
bacteria are the beta and gamma divisions. From the com-
bination of our previous analysis of tryptophan
biosynthesis [7,8], TYR biosynthesis (this paper), and

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Table 2: Key to organism acronyms

Organism Abbreviation Abbreviation
in Paper on websiteb

Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans ATCC 23270 Aferr
Acinetobacter sp. ADP I ACIN
Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans H K I65 I Aact
Actinomyces naeslundii MG I Anae
Actinoplanes teichomyceticus Atei
Agrobacterium tumefaciens strain C58 Atum
Amycolatopsis balhimycina Abal
Amycolatopsis orientalis Aori
Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 ANAB
Arabidopsis thaliana Atha
Archaeoglobus fulgidus DSM 4304 Aful Aful_
Azotobacter vinelandii Avin Avin_ I
Bacillis anthracis str. A2012 Bant
Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 Bcer
Bacillus halodurans C-I 125 Bhal Bhal_2
Bacillus stearothermophilus Bste
Bacillis subtilis Bsub
Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis Bthu
Bifidobacterium longum NCC2705 Blon Blon_l
Blochmannia floridanus Bflo
Bordetella bronchisepticus Bbro
Burkholderia cepacia J23 15 Bcep
Burkholderia fungorum LB400 Bfun
Burkholderia mallei ATCC 23344 Bmal
Burkholderia pseudomallei K96243 Bpse Bpse_6
Campylobacter jejuni Cjej
Chromobacterium violaceum ATCC 12472 Cvio
Corynebacterium diphtheriae NCTC 13129 Cdip
Corynebacterium efficiens YS-3 I 14 Ceff
Corynebacterium glutamicum ATCC 13032 Cglu Cglu_ I
Desulfovibrio desulfuricans G20 Ddes
Desulfovibrio vulgaris subsp. vulgaris strain Hildenborough Dvul
Desulfuromonas acetoxidans Dace Dace_5
Enterococcus faecalis V583 Efae_2
Enterococcus faecium Efae_ I Efae_ I
Erwinia carotovoa subsp.atroseptica SCRI 1043 Ecar
Escherichia coli KI 2 Ecol
Geobacter metallireducens GS- 15 Gmet
Geobacter sulfurreducens PCA Gsul
Gloeobacter violaceus PCC 7421 Gvio
Haemophilus influenzae Rd KW20 Hinf
Helicobacter hepaticus ATCC 51449 Hhep
Helicobacter pylon 26695 Hpyl
Klebsiella pneumoniae subsp. pneumoniae MGH 78578 Kpne
Leifsonia xyli subsp. Xyli strain CTCB07 Lxyl
Listeria innocua Clip 11262 Linn
Listeria monocytogenes EGD-e Lmon
Lotus corniculatus var. japonicus Lcor Lcor_3
Lycopersicon esculentum Lesc
Methanococcus jannaschii Mjan
Methanopyrus kandleri AV 19 Mkan Mkan_ I
Methanosarcina barken strain Fusaro Mbar
Methanothermobacter thermoautotrophicus strain Delta H Mthe Mthe_7
Microbulbifer degradans 2-40 Mdeg
Mycobactenum avium subsp. paratuberculosis strain k 10 Mavi
Mycobactenum bovis TrEMBL Mbov Mbov_2
Mycobactenum leprae TN Mlep
Mycobactenum tuberculosis CDC 1551 Mtub
Myxococcus xanthus DK 1622 Mxan

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Table 2: Key to organism acronyms (Continued)

Neisseria gonorrhoeae FA 1090 Ngon
Nitrosomonas europaea ATCC 19718 Neur
Nocardia farcinica IFM 10152 Nfar
Nonomuraea sp. NONO
Nostoc punctiforme PCC73102 Npun Npun_ I
Novosphingomonas aromaticivorans DSM 12444 Naro
Oceanobacillus iheyensis THE83 I Oihe
Oryza sativa ssp. japonica Osat
Pantoea agglomerans Pagg
Pasteurella multocida subsp. multocida strain Pm70 Pmul
Photorhabdus luminescens subsp. laumondii TTO I Plum
Prochlorococcus marinus subsp. pastors strain CCMPI 378 Pmar_l Pmar_3
Prochlorococcus marinus MIT93 13 Pmar_2 Pmar 10
Propionibacterium acnes KPA I 71202 Pacn
Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO I Paer Paer_ I
Pseudomonas fluorescens PfO- I Pflu
Pseudomonas putida KT2440 Pput
Pseudomonas stutzeri Pstu
Ralstonia eutropha JMP 134 Reut
Ralstonia solanacearum GMI 1000 Rsol
Rhodobacter capsulatus Rcap
Rhodobacter sphaeroides 2.4.1 Rsph
Rhodopseudomonas palustris CGA009 Rpal
Rhodospirillum rubrum Rrub Rrub_ I
Rubrobacterxylanophilus DSM 9941 Rxyl
Saccharomyces cerevisiae Scer
Salmonella typhimurium LT2 Styp Styp_ I
Schizosaccharomyces pombe Spom
Shewanella oneidensis M R- I Sone
Shewanella putrifacians Spu
Staphylococcus aureus subsp. Aureus MW2 Saur Saur_2
Streptococcus gordonii str. Challis Sgor
Streptococcus pneumoniae R6 Spne
Streptomyces avermitilis MA-4680 Save
Streptomyces caeruleus Scae Scae_2
Streptomyces coelicolor A3(2) Scoe Scoe_ I
Streptomyces lavendulae Slav
Streptomyces pristinaespiralis Spri
Streptomyces roseochromogenes subsp. Oscitans Sros Sros_l
Streptomyces toyocaensis strain 7 Stoy
Sulfolobus solfataricus P2 Ssol
Sulfolobus tokodaii strain 7 Stok
Synechococcus sp. WH8102 SYN E_ I SYNE_ I
Synechococcus sp. PCC7002 SYNE_2
Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 SYNE_3 SYNE_3
Thermobifida fusca Tfus
Thermosynechococcus elongates BP- I Telo
Trichodesmium erythraeum I MS 101 Tery
Tropheryma whipplei TW08/27 Twhi
Vibrio choleroe 01 biovar eltor strain N 16961 Vcho
Vibrio parahaemolyticus RIMD 2210633 Vpar
Wolinella succinogenes DSM 1740 Wsu
Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris strain ATCC 33913 Xcam
Xylella fastidiosa 9a5c Xfas
Yersinia enterocolitica (type 0:8) Yent
Zymomonas mobilis subsp. mobilis ZM4 Zmob

aThe system of acronym usage is: the first letter (capital) is the first letter of the genus followed by the first three letters (lower-case) of the species.
If there is no species designation the first four letters of the genus are used (all in capitals). Redundant 4-letter acronyms are distinguished by unique
following numbers. See [74] for a comprehensive listing with hyperlinks to the Taxonomy database records and the GenBank records at NCBI.

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Specificities Fill or Line
TyrA, A
NAD(P) -
Node values > 988
O Node values > 900

Figure 2
Phylogenetic tree for trimmed core domains of selected members of the TyrA Superfamily. Acronyms used for the various
organisms are given in alphabetical order in Table 2. (A more extensive listing that includes organisms not shown in Fig. 2 and
which also is hyperlinked to all of the individual GenBank records is given in Table S I. A similar table that also includes compi-
lation of known and predicted substrate specificities is maintained at AroPath [73]. Lineages possessing experimentally estab-
lished TyrAa, TyrAp, TyrAc or TyrAc A proteins are indicated by fill colors specified in the legend. Three specificity patterns for
the pyridine nucleotide substrate are shown by line colors (see figure box). Although the cyanobacteria are depicted as having
NADP+-specific TyrA proteins, some of them can also accept NAD, albeit to a lesser degree. All proteins having an aspartate
residue homologous to D-32 of the E coli NADTyrAc A domain are presumed specific for NAD+. Fusion of TyrA domains with
other catalytic domains is indicated within grey boxes (AroQ*TyrA, TyrA*AroF, HisHb*TyrA, and TyrA*AroQ*PheA*ACT)
using the convention of a bullet to represent the interdomain area. The boxes overlap any relevant lineages. TyrA proteins hav-
ing carboxy-terminal fusions with regulatory domains (TyrA*ACT and TyrA*REG) are also shown. The distance scale bar at the
bottom left represents substitutions per site.

other segments of aromatic biosynthesis (unpublished
data), we find it useful to separate "upper-gamma" Pro-
teobacteria from "lower-gamma" Proteobacteria (an
"enteric lineage" with Shewanella oneidensis as approxi-
mately the most divergent member). This separation is
because the beta Proteobacteria and the upper-gamma

Proteobacteria exhibit a smooth continuity of relatively
few evolutionary events with respect to aromatic biosyn-
thesis, in striking contrast to extraordinarily dynamic evo-
lutionary events in the lower-gamma Proteobacteria. As a
consequence, the lower-gamma Proteobacteria are much
more distinct (in terms of aromatic biosynthesis) from the

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upper-gamma Proteobacteria than the upper-gamma are
from the beta Proteobacteria.

Figure 2 shows that alpha, beta and epsilon divisions of
Proteobacteria form phylogenetically coherent clusters
with respect to their TyrA proteins. Although delta Proteo-
bacteria fall into two well-separated groupings denoted as
Delta_l1 and Delta_2, this should not be surprising since
these groupings diverge at a deep level on the 16S rRNA
tree where genome representation is poor. In addition, the
Myxococcus xanthus TyrA sequence, currently an orphan
(three o'clock in Fig. 2), represents a third divergent line-
age in delta Proetobacteria. In contrast to delta Proteobac-
teria, genomic representation for the gamma
Proteobacteria is relatively good. Nevertheless their TyrA
sequences separate into several well-spaced groupings,
albeit for entirely different reasons. In this case, the split
seen between two clades of these fairly close relatives
(upper-gamma and lower-gamma) is attributed to partic-
ularly dynamic evolutionary events compressed into a rel-
atively short time span in the lower-gamma
Proteobacteria. (We refer to such a dynamic divergence as
an evolutionary jump; see the next section.) Note that the
allocation of upper-gamma and lower-gamma Proteobac-
teria to separate TyrA congruency groups is not the same
as being incongruent. It is quite possible that as new
genomes come on line, new and intermediate TyrA
sequences may result in the merging of the foregoing two
congruency groups (currently tyrosine congruency group
1 (TyrCG-1) and tyrosine congruency group 2 (TyrCG-2)).

Comparison of tryptophan and tyrosine congruency groups
Although the true extent of lateral gene transfer (LGT) at
present must be described as intensely controversial, there
is little doubt that any given organism is mosaic with
respect to some unknown fraction of its gene repertoire.
Our "accounting" system for keeping track of proteins that
are faithful to the vertical genealogy is to formulate con-
gruency groupings that are defined by congruence of given
protein-tree clusters to a section of the 16S rRNA tree. Ulti-
mately this information will reveal which organisms are
"pure" with respect to the vertical inheritance of a given
pathway or pathway segment. Our congruency groups are
intended to be fluid, in that with the continued availabil-
ity of new sequences, a previous orphan sequence may
very well become the seed for a new congruency group.
On the other hand, previously separate congruency
groups have the potential to merge. (See Methods for
more information.) The present tyrosine congruency
groups are listed on the AroPath website [9].

Seven tryptophan congruency groups in Bacteria were pre-
viously formulated [8] based upon the correspondence of
cohesive clusters in trees of Trp-protein concatenates with
sections of 16S rRNA trees. The information input for for-

mulation of tryptophan congruency groups is of greater
quality than for tyrosine congruency groups because
seven-protein concatenates could be used for the former.
On the other hand, the broad information input support-
ing tyrosine congruency groups in this study is more com-
prehensive because of greater genome availability.
Tryptophan congruency group 1 (TrpCG-1) corresponds
perfectly with the organisms represented in TyrCG-1,
these being the lower-gamma Proteobacteria (enteric lin-
eage). The upper-gamma Proteobacteria (TyrCG-2) and
the beta Proteobacteria (tyrosine congruency group 3;
TyrCG-3) are represented by different tyrosine congruency
groups. In contrast, the membership of tryptophan con-
gruency group 2 (TrpCG-2) includes both the upper-
gamma Proteobacteria and the beta Proteobacteria. The
latter merging probably reflects the advantage conferred
by the greater information content of the concatenated
sequences used to define tryptophan congruency groups.

Species of Xylella and Xanthomonas are usually referred to
as gamma Proteobacteria. They probably represent an out-
lying deeply branching lineage, although trees based on
concatenated strings of proteins [101 or 16S rRNA [111
position them with beta Proteobacteria. In any event, Trp-
protein concatenate trees placed Xylella and Xanthomonas
within TrpCG-2, which contains both upper-gamma and
beta Proteobacteria. In contrast, the TyrA domains from
Xylella and Xanthomonas were well separated (at about two
o'clock in Fig. 2) from those of any other organism. This
might simply be due to the limited resolving power of a
single protein in combination with too few close relatives.
(Note that single Trp-protein trees sometimes failed to
achieve the congruency-group placements that were
resolved by seven-protein Trp concatenates [8]). An addi-
tional clue may be relevant. The TyrA proteins from the
Xylella/Xanthomonas genera possess an ACT domain,
which has not been observed in any other proteobacterial
TyrA proteins thus far. In view of this, origin by LGT seems
to be a distinct possibility, but with the important caveat
that no likely genome donors are yet obvious on the crite-
rion of sequence similarity. Perhaps more likely is the fol-
lowing possible explanation that postulates a basis for
accelerated divergence. The TyrA domains of Xan-
thomonas/Xylella proteins have an indel structuring (inser-
tions and/or deletions) that places them within the
TyrA, A specificity subclass (see below). We suggest (see
below) that such indel structuring reflects interaction of
the core TyrA domain with an extra-domain extension.
Thus, selection for amino acid changes accomplishing a
new domain-domain interaction could account for accel-
erated divergence of the Xanthomonas/Xylella sequences on
the TyrA tree (Fig. 2).

Cohesive tryptophan congruency groups of the alpha Pro-
teobacteria (tryptophan congruency group 3; TrpCG-3)

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Table 3: Curated TyrA amino-acid sequence files at AroPath
Complete TyrA sequences
Catalytic-core domains
Pyridine-nucleotide discriminator segments
Broad specificity
Cyclohexadienyl-substrate core segments
Arogenate-specific (TyrAa)
Prephenate-specific (TyrAp)
Broad specificity

TyrAc A
Pseudogene TyrA sequences

aTrimmed free of N-terminal or C-terminal extensions, including any
fusions with regulatory domains or other catalytic domains.
bHigh-glycine P3p3 Rossmann fold at the N-terminus.

and the cyanobacteria (tryptophan congruency group 4;
TrpCG-4) match up well with the corresponding tyrosine
congruency groups (tyrosine congruency group 4 (TyrCG-
4) and tyrosine congruency group 8 (TyrCG-8), respec-
tively). The TyrA proteins of epsilon Proteobacteria define
a cohesive tyrosine congruency group (tyrosine congru-
ency group 5; TyrCG-5), whereas the Trp-protein concate-
nates of epsilon Proteobacteria did not exhibit a coherent
congruency group, due at least in part to LGT [8]. The
delta Proteobacteria separate into two distinct tyrosine
congruency groups: Delta_l (tyrosine congruency group
6; TyrCG-6) and Delta_2 (tyrosine congruency group 7;
TyrCG-7), as shown in Fig. 2. It is likely that correspond-
ing tryptophan congruency groups exist (work in
progress), but at the time of the Xie et al. study [8] only
Trp-pathway protein concatenates for Desulfovibrio vulgaris
(Delta 2) and Geobacter sulfurreducens (Delta 1_l) were
available, and they were provisionally listed as "orphans".
In the present work TyrA sequences from Deinococcus radi-
odurans and Thermus thermophilus are the sole members of
tyrosine congruency group 12 (TyrCG-12). At the time of
the Trp-pathway work, the genome of Thermus was una-
vailable and the Deinococcus concatenate was listed as an
orphan. It is expected that the Deinococcus and Thermus
concatenates will now seed a new tryptophan congruency

Whereas tryptophan congruency group 5 (TrpCG-5) is
defined by cohesive concatenates from actinomycete bac-
teria, the TyrA proteins from the same organisms sepa-
rated into two distinct congruency groups. It is intriguing
that this partitioning into two congruency groups corre-
lates with narrowed specificity for NAD+ (indicating an
evolutionary jump) in one of the groups. The latter group
(tyrosine congruency group 11; TyrCG-11) is denoted

Actinobacteridae_2 in Fig. 2, whereas tyrosine congruency
group 10 (TyrCG-10) is displayed as Actinobacteridae_1.
The opposite scenario whereby a single tyrosine congru-
ency group corresponds to split tryptophan congruency
groups applies in the case of low-GC gram-positive bacte-
ria. Whereas TyrA proteins form a single congruency
group in these organisms (tyrosine congruency group 9;
TyrCG-9), a small cluster of Trp-pathway concatenates
from Bacillus subtilis, B. stearothermophilus, and B. halo-
durans (tryptophan congruency group 6; TrpCG-6) sepa-
rate distinctly from the remaining organisms (tryptophan
congruency group 7; TrpCG-7). The latter evolutionary
jump reflects a dynamic scenario of tryptophan-pathway
evolutionary events that include loss of one gene from the
trp operon, insertion of the trp operon into a 6-gene aro
operon to produce a supraoperon, and acquisition of the
TRAP (tryptophan-activated RNA-binding protein) mech-
anism of regulation by an RNA-binding protein [7].

Tyrosine congruency groups and tryptophan congruency
groups are maintained and updated at the AroPath web-
site [121.

Distribution in nature of TyrA specificity subclasses for the
cyclohexadienyl substrate
Four qualitative classes of specificity for the cyclohexadi-
enyl substrate populate the TyrA superfamily ofhomologs
(Fig. 1). These include PPA-specific (TyrAp), AGN-specific
(TyrAa), the broad-specificity cyclohexadienyl (TyrAc)
dehydrogenases and a fourth class represented by an
enzyme of antibiotic biosynthesis (PapC) that converts 4-
amino-4-deoxy-prephenate to 4-amino-phenylpyruvate
[13]. Representatives of each specificity class have been
studied at molecular and genetic levels. TyrA family mem-
bers sharing a given substrate specificity do not necessarily
cluster tightly together, and assignment of substrate spe-
cificity to experimentally uncharacterized TyrA homologs
is uncertain unless they exhibit very high amino acid iden-
tities with experimentally characterized TyrA proteins. In
some cases we do not accept older literature reports with-
out more recent verification. For example, the yeast Sac-
charomyces cerevisiae TyrAx was characterized as a TyrAp
protein [14] long before it was recognized [15] that PPA
preparations were often contaminated with AGN (an
unknown compound at that time).

Our collection of curated TyrA sequences at AroPath (see
Table 3) contains trimmed sequences that comprise cata-
lytic-core domains. This collection was divided into two
groups based on whether the sequences contained the rel-
atively short N-terminal pyridine-nucleotide discrimina-
tor segment or the longer C-terminal cyclohexadienyl-
substrate core segment. The sequences in the latter group
were assembled into subgroups representing established
substrate specificities (TyrAa, TyrAp and TyrAc) and were

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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13





TyrA. ,


Figure 3
Multiple alignment of the HMM consensus sequences obtained for different substrate-specificity groupings within cyclohexadi-
enyl-substrate core segments (see Table 3). Invariant anchor residues are highlighted in yellow, conserved residues in grey.
These consensus sequences will change continuously as corrections and refinements are made. The version shown was current
as of April, 2005.

aligned separately to obtain overall consensus sequences
for cyclohexadienyl-substrate core segments. The TyrAc
group members from the lower-gamma assemblage of
Proteobacteria (as well as from a few other lineages) were
so distinctive that a fourth group (TyrAc A) was defined.
This latter group is, in fact, the most divergent of the four.
Figure 3 shows a comparison of the four consensus
sequences, with invariant anchor residues shaded yellow
and residues conserved across all groups shaded in gray.
Residues within each group that are >50% conserved are
shown in capital letters. In pairwise BLAST (Basic Local
Alignment Tool) [16]comparisons, TyrAa and TyrA, con-
sensus sequences are most similar (47% identity), fol-
lowed by the TyrAc/TyrAp pair (40% identity), with TyrAa
and TyrAp exhibiting 34% identity. TyrAc A is quite distinct
from the other three groupings, exhibiting only 27% iden-
tity with TyrAc, 23% identity with TyrAc, and 18% identity
with TyrAp.

Cyclohexadienyl dehydrogenases
Many TyrA proteins (at least in the domain Bacteria) are of
the TyrA, subclass. The cyclohexadienyl dehydrogenases
commonly accept PPA or AGN about equally well, but
various degrees of preference for one of the alternative
substrates are also observed. Detailed molecular and
genetic studies of TyrA, proteins from Pseudomonas aerugi-
nosa, [17], P. stutzeri [ 1], and Zymomonas mobilis [18] have
been carried out. The distinct variety of TyrA, mentioned
above, which has been denoted TyrA, A exhibits a number
of indels (mostly deletions) within the catalytic-core
region when its consensus sequence is aligned with those

of the other TyrA classes (Fig. 3). It is intriguing that the
indel structuring of TyrA, A correlates with the presence of
an extra-core extension. This extension is often AroQ, but
not always. For example, in the genera Nostoc and Ana-
baena it appears to be a degraded, catalytically inactive
AroQ, whereas in Xanthomonas or Xylella it is an ACT
domain. Since the one large clade of TyrA, A proteins that
has so far been studied prefers PPA over AGN by well over
an order of magnitude, an evolutionary relationship of
indel insertions to the narrowing of substrate preference
for PPA might exist. If so, however, this cannot be the only
molecular change to accomplish favored utilization of
PPA over AGN since a number of TyrA, proteins, (e.g.,
TyrA, from Neisseria gonorrhoeae), also exhibits an over-
whelming preference for PPA, even though this class lacks
the indel structuring.

Arogenate dehydrogenases
The TyrAa class of specificity is currently represented by
higher plants and at least three widely spaced bacterial lin-
eages: cyanobacteria, actinomycetes and Nitrosomonas
europaea. This discontinuity of phylogenetic spacing is
consistent with a fundamental evolutionary scenario [19]
whereby the ancestral dehydrogenase was a broad-specif-
icity TyrAc that evolved narrowed substrate specificity (to
yield either TyrAp or TyrAa) independently on multiple
occasions in modem lineages. The ubiquitous presence of
TyrAain cyanobacteria has been heavily documented [20].
Nitrosomonas europaea currently (as of March, 2005) has
no sufficiently close genome relatives that have been
sequenced. The first BLAST hit returned from a NADpTyrga

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-WrJ A e RD
kTA e RD
-vall a e RD
lw -A e RD


BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

Actinobacteria r FAMILY










Rubrobacter xylanophilus
Amycolatopsis orientalis
Amycolatopsis balhimycina
N.:nr.:murra< sp.
inermonDi.da fusca
3cre tc,:myjes a'rerm nia i
$crefc.:m- ces j :elical.:r
3cr=eF.:myjes ; i 'enauL se
Icrepcjmr'ce c.:y.:: ensis
4cr=eC.:my:es caeruleuj
c repcmic .e r.. .rcarm.'gre$
Actinoplanes teichomyceticus
Actinomyces naeslundii
Tropheryma whipplei
Leifsonia xyli
Propionibacterium acnes

Corynebacterium efficient
Corynebacterium glutamicum
Corynebacterium diphtheriae
Mycobacterium bovis
Mycobacterium tuberculosis
Mycobacterium leprae
Mycobacterium avium
Nocardia farcinica
Bifidobacterium longum

Wierenga Fingerprint Residues
Varia9 loop
1 4 6 8 11 15 18 22262830 32



Figure 4
Alignment of the N-terminal glycine-rich P-loop of TyrA*ACT proteins from the Class Actinobacteria. These are specific for L-
arogenate as substrate, but fall into two groups with respect to the pyridine nucleotide co-substrate. The top NAD+-specific
group possesses an aspartate (D) at position 32 (E. coli numbering), whereas the bottom NAD+/NADP+ group possesses an
asparagine at the homologous position. Residue numbers are shown at the left. The species in the middle are color coded to
match the hierarchical taxon positions obtained from NCBI. The variable loop of the Wierenga fingerprint [26], which in E. coli
contains five residues (22-26), contains the minimal two residues in all of the Actinobacteria shown. The organisms on the right
are color coded according to the taxonomic position indicated on the left (NCBI). The Rubrobacter xylanophilus TyrAa sequence
is an orphan in the tree displayed in Fig. 2, as consistent with its outlying position in the taxonomy scheme.

query from N. europaea (March,2005) is the protein from
Ralstonia solanacearum (48% identity), which is known to
possess broad specificity for both of its substrates (i.e.,
NAD(P)TyrAc) [21,22].

The TyrA sequences of Actinobacteria separate into two dis-
tinct groupings on the protein tree (Fig. 2). Coryneform
bacteria in one sub-cluster have been rigorously character-
ized as the NAD(P)TyrAa substrate specificity type. On the

other hand, a variety of Streptomyces species have been
shown [23,24] to possess NADTyrAa, and TyrA proteins of
these organisms populate the second Actinobacteria sub-
cluster of Fig. 2. Figure 4 shows sequence alignments of
the N-terminal pyridine-nucleotide discriminator regions
of currently available actinomycetes. The conserved 'D'
residue (highlighted in yellow) in the upper group is a
reliable indicator of NAD+ specificity, in part because
NADP+ is repelled by the negative charge at this position.

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The asparagine residue (highlighted in blue) in the corre-
sponding position in members of the lower group indi-
cates NAD(P)+ specificity as discussed by Bonner et al.
[25]. Rubrobacter xylanophilus is the most distant represent-
ative of the Actinobacteria, being the sole member of the
subclass taxon Rubrobacteridae, and its protein (denoted
Rxyl) appears as an orphan in Fig. 2.

A similar relationship of phylogenetic separation associ-
ated with narrowed specificity for pyridine-nucleotide
substrate exists for the low-GC gram-positive bacteria
(eight o'clock in Fig. 2). Here the major clade is NAD+-
specific, whereas species of Streptococcus have retained the
ancestral breadth of specificity for NAD+/NADP+.
Alignments of the pyridine-nucleotide discriminator
regions of these latter two groups match up extremely well
with the upper alignment of Fig. 4 where residue 32 of the
Wierenga fingerprint [26] is 'D' and with the lower align-
ment where residue 32 is 'N' (data not shown).

Recently, a plant tyrAa from Arabidopsis thaliana has been
reported to consist of two near-identical domains that are
fused [27]. The gene encoding this 68-kDa protein co-
exists in the genome with a single-domain paralog [28]
that encodes a predicted 37-kDa protein, somewhat larger
than the catalytic-core domain of TyrAa from Synechocystis.
TyrAa (known to be located in higher-plant chloroplasts
[2]) may have originated from cyanobacteria via endo-
symbiosis. If so, however, the plant TyrAa sequences have
diverged sufficiently that they no longer share a specific
phylogenetic grouping with the cyanobacterial TyrA
sequences. This is in marked contrast with the phyloge-
netic coherence of the tryptophan synthase subunit pro-
teins (TrpEa and TrpEb_ 1) from cyanobacteria and higher
plants [29].

Prephenate dehydrogenases
TyrAp is conspicuously represented by a large clade of low-
GC gram-positive organisms, of which Bacillus subtilis
TyrAp is the best studied [30]. Thus far, all TyrAp proteins
are fused to a C-terminal ACT domain, and therefore no
"minimal" TyrAp proteins that consist only of a catalytic
core are available as yet. At the level of physiological func-
tion, it should be added that those cyclohexadienyl dehy-
drogenases that exhibit a very substantial preference for
prephenate are for all practical purposes prephenate dehy-
drogenases, even though they carry a formal designation
of TyrAc or TyrA A. These include most, if not all, of the
AroQ*TyrAc A enzymes of the enteric lineage (lower-
gamma in Fig. 2). The TyrA, protein from Neisseria gonor-
rhoeae (and by inference, the closely related N. menin-
gitides) is also a well-studied example of overwhelming
preference for prephenate [211.

PapC dehydrogenases
PapC participates in the formation of p-aminophenyla-
lanine as a step in the synthesis of at least two antibiotics
(see Fig. 1). It is so far represented by only a few
sequences. The PapC specificity is strongly indicated by
absence of the otherwise invariant residue H197 (E. coli
numbering) that is associated with recognition of a 4-
hydroxy moiety in the cyclohexadienyl substrates of the
aforementioned dehydrogenases. This moiety, of course,
differs in being a 4-amino substituent in the substrate
used by the PapC dehydrogenase (Fig. 1). See Bonner et al.
[25] for a more detailed overview.

The "redundant" trplaro supraoperon of Nostocl
All cyanobacteria possess a highly conserved tyrA, gene, as
well as a complete suite of tryptophan-pathway genes that
are dispersed unlinkedd) in the genome. The large-
genome cyanobacterial lineage consisting of the Nostoc
and Anabaena genera possess in addition a unique and
seemingly redundant trp/aro supraoperon consisting of
most of the aforementioned genes [31]. These include a
second tyrA gene (curated as tyrAc ), six trp-pathway
genes (all except trpC), and genes encoding the first two
common-pathway steps of aromatic amino acid biosyn-
thesis. All of these supraoperonic genes appear to be
redundant in that they are represented by homologs (par-
alogs or xenologs) elsewhere in the Nostoc and Anabaena
genomes at scattered loci. The closest BLAST hits for the
Nostoc/Anabaena TyrAc A proteins are not the co-existing
TyrAa homologs present in their own genomes (and uni-
versally present in cyanobacteria). Rather the closest
BLAST hits are to the TyrA, A domains of the AroQ*TyrA, A
fusions in the enteric lineage. Since the enteric proteins
are NAD+-specific and strongly prefer prephenate, it is
likely that the "extra" cyanobacterial proteins are also
NADTyrAC A proteins. Indeed, this would be consistent with
enzymological evidence provided in the literature for
both Nostoc and Anabaena [20].

Concerning the evolutionary origin of the redundant
block of linked genes found in the Nostoc and Anabaena
genomes, at least two possibilities await further illumina-
tion. (i) These genes might have been acquired by a com-
mon ancestor of Nostoc and Anabaena via lateral gene
transfer. This is consistent with the observation that bio-
synthetic-pathway operons are generally absent in the
cyanobacteria, and all of the linked genes could have been
recruited in a single event. However, at present no candi-
date donor genomes are known that possess this
supraoperon combination of genes. If the TyrAA proteins
of Nostoc/Anabaena and the enteric lineage are possibly
related by LGT, it is of interest that the N-terminal exten-
sion of TyrAc A from Nostoc/Anabaena resembles a
degraded AroQ domain of AroQ*TyrA, A from enterics. In

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both cases the N-terminal residues may compensate for
indel deletions within the catalytic core region of TyrA A.
Subsequently, AroQ function may have evolved in one
lineage (or have been lost in the other). This possibility of
domain-domain interaction is consistent with the estab-
lished interdependence of the AroQ* and *TyrA, A
domains from E. coli [32]. Alternatively, tyrAy and trAc A
(and the duplicated trp and aro genes present in the
supraoperon) might be ancient paralogs within the cyano-
bacterial lineage. If so, at a time following divergence of
heterocystous cyanobacteria from the unicellular cyano-
bacteria, the latter may have lost the clustered block of
aromatic-pathway genes in a single event of reductive
evolution. The supraoperonic genes might be related to a
specialized function associated with "developmental"
physiological processes that typify the filamentous, hete-
rocyst-forming cyanobacteria. This might be reminiscent
of the nature of the phenazine-pigment operon of Pseu-
domonas aeruginosa. Here unique phenazine-pathway
genes are combined with a redundant gene of common-
pathway aromatic biosynthesis and two redundant (and
fused) genes of tryptophan biosynthesis. This accom-
plishes the linkage of specific phenazine biosynthesis with
a supply of 2-amino-2-deoxy-isochorismate, the branch-
point of divergence toward phenazine and tryptophan
[33,34]. This complexity in which multiple paralogs are
differentially deployed is consistent with the large
genome sizes of Anabaena (7.2 MB) and Nostoc (9.2 MB),
compared with the much smaller unicellular genomes of
Prochlorococcus marinus (1.7 MB), Synechococcus sp.
WH8102 (2.4 MB), and Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 (3.6

Profile hidden Markov models (HMMs) to distinguish
specificity subfamilies for cyclohexadienyl substrate
The limited information thus far available about specific
molecular roles of particular TyrA amino acid residues has
been summarized recently [25]. The catalytic-core
domains of known TyrAa, TyrAp, TyrAc, and TyrA, A pro-
teins were selected from our files of TyrA catalytic-core
domains [35], and a new subset of sequences was pre-
pared that lacked the pyridine nucleotide discriminator
segment, a glycine-rich 3up region at the N terminus.
Although the glycine-rich pup region is not the only seg-
ment that contacts pyridine nucleotide substrate, it is the
sole region that discriminates between NAD+ and NADP+.
The resulting trimmed sequence is defined as the
"cyclohexadienyl-substrate core segment". No distinctive
motifs were found that, in isolation, would be a clear pre-
dictive indicator of specificity for cyclohexadienyl
substrate. Similar substrate specificity profiles probably
can be dictated by alternative patterns of interplay
between different residue combinations.

Because of the rapid accumulation of incorrectly anno-
tated TyrA entries in GenBank and other databases, partly
due to the complications of misnaming that are associated
with gene fusions and partly to a failure to assimilate pub-
lished substrate specificities, the use of BLAST does not
return reliable annotations with respect to substrate spe-
cificity. Even the HMMs used in Pfam [36] and Interpro
[37] were not helpful in this case because the HMM
deployed in those databases was broadly but incorrectly
defined as 'prephenate dehydrogenase (NADP+) activity'
for all TyrA dehydrogenases (accession number PF02153
in Pfam and entry IPR003099 in Interpro). However, Pro-
file HMM is known to be well suited for modeling a par-
ticular sequence family of interest and for finding
additional remote homologs [38]. It is reputed to outper-
form methods that rely only upon pair-wise alignment of
homologous residues in predicting protein function [39].
Therefore, profile HMMs were constructed using our mul-
tiple sequence alignments of each curated TyrA specificity
subfamily, using the HMMER package [38].

The profile HMMs obtained are only tentatively reliable
for prediction of substrate specificity. To facilitate ongoing
and future functional annotations, we have made our pro-
file HMMs available as a working resource for "specificity
prediction" at AroPath [40]. Users can match query
sequences against the four profile HMMs to predict the
subfamily to which a query sequence belongs. It is antici-
pated that future experimental data relevant to substrate
specificity will facilitate refinement of the prediction pro-
gram. For example, at present the program predicts that
the TyrA sequences from organisms such as Helicobacter
pylori and Saccharomyces cerevisiae belong to the TyrAa
grouping, and it will be interesting to see whether this
holds up to experimental confirmation. It is additionally
fascinating that (i) the dehydrogenase from Archaeoglobus
fulgidus is predicted to belong to the indel-containing
TyrA, A grouping and (ii) that it possesses a possible coop-
eratively interacting extra-core domain extension (an
AroQ fusion), just as occurs for the large clade of enteric
bacteria. If this is relevant, it is even more fascinating that
the Archaeoglobus aroQ is fused at the C-terminal side of
tyrA A, rather than at the N terminus as is the case with
enteric bacteria.

Users at AroPath [41] can enter query sequences into
interactive multiple sequence alignments with any of the
four sets of "cyclohexadienyl-substrate core segments"
sequences that were used to train the profile HMMs. An
ongoing effort is in process to extend the predictor capa-
bility to include the pyridine nucleotide substrate as well.
One can also align query sequences of interest with either
an assemblage of the complete set of curator-approved
TyrA catalytic-core TyrA sequences or with any desired
subset of seed sequences.

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Table 4: Cyclohexadienyl substrates and inhibitors of TyrA proteins possess identical sidechains


Synechocystis sp.
Arabidopsis thaliana
Nitrosomonas europaea
Corynebacterium glutamicum
Neisseria gonorrhoeae
Pseudomonas stutzeri
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Zymomonas mobilis








[27, 28]
[42, 43]

aAbbreviation: HPP, 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate. bThis TyrAc enzyme has an overwhelming preference for PPA, but will use AGN poorly.

The catalytic-core domain of TyrA proteins
The simplest set of fully functional TyrA proteins consists
only of the catalytic-core domain (about 180 amino
acids) [1] and includes the well-characterized TyrAc
enzymes from Neisseria gonorrhoeae [21] and Zymomonas
mobilis [18], as well as TyrAafrom a cyanobacterium [25].
In addition the catalytic-core domain from Pseudomonas
stutzeri has been engineered for study from a tyrAcaroF
fusion [ 1]. These model core proteins are roughly as diver-
gent from one another on the TyrA protein tree as are the
organisms that contain them (Fig. 2). In view of the pos-
sibility raised in this paper about inter-domain interac-
tions, the single-domain TyrA proteins are undoubtedly
the simplest sources for study of the fundamental proper-
ties of the catalytic-core domain.

Xie et al. [ 1 ] suggested that in the set of catalytic-core TyrA
proteins, inhibitors bind at the catalytic site and exhibit
classical competitive inhibition with respect to the partic-
ular cyclohexadienyl substrates that can be accepted by a
given organism. This model predicts that the specificity
for the sidechains of substrates used would parallel the
specificity for inhibitor sidechains. The information sum-
marized in Table 4 supports this expectation. Thus, the
TyrAc proteins of P. stutzeri and P. aeruginosa will accept
either a pyruvyl (as with PPA) or an alanyl (as with AGN)
sidechain in the alternative substrates used, and this is
paralleled by recognition of either a pyruvyl (4-hydroxy-
phenylpyruvate) or an alanyl (TYR) sidechain in the com-
petent inhibitor structures. In another case, the N.
gonorrhoeae TyrA, exhibits an overwhelming substrate
preference for PPA, and consistent with the foregoing, is
subject to inhibition by 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate but not
by TYR. A variety of analog inhibitor structures were used
by Xie et al. [1] to show that the minimal structure for
binding at the substrate-binding site of P. stutzeri TyrAc is
a six-membered ring with a 4-hydroxy substituent.

In contrast to the TyrAc proteins just described, the Z.
mobilis TyrAc is totally insensitive to inhibition by either 4-

hydroxyphenylpyruvate or TYR. Since both of these com-
pounds lack a 1-carboxy moiety, it is reasonable to
assume that the 1-carboxy substituent present in the two
substrates accepted may be required for binding at the cat-
alytic center. Thus, although TyrAc from Z. mobilis will
accept the same two substrates as does the TyrAc from P.
stutzeri, the greatly different inhibition results suggest that
Z. mobilis obeys more stringent rules for binding at the cat-
alytic site (i.e., a ring carboxylate must be present).

Synechocystis sp. and Arabidopsis thaliana TyrAa proteins
accept as a substrate only AGN, which has an alanyl
sidechain. The ring-carboxylate moiety is evidently not
absolutely required for binding since these TyrAa proteins
can recognize TYR (alanyl sidechain) as a competitive
inhibitor. In contrast, since N. europaea TyrAa is not inhib-
ited by TYR, it resembles the Z. mobilis TyrAc in the
putative requirement for a 1-carboxy substituent to secure
successful binding at the catalytic site.

In summary, some TyrA proteins probably exercise greater
discrimination in their requirement for a 1-carboxy moi-
ety for binding at the catalytic site, and these are insensi-
tive to competitive inhibition by the aromatic reaction
products (which lack the 1-carboxy substituent). Other
TyrA proteins that require the 1-carboxy moiety for the
fundamental catalytic process, but presumably do not
require it for binding, will recognize product inhibitors
that have the same sidechain as any substrate recognized.

Specificity for the pyridine nucleotide co-substrate within
the TyrA superfamily
NAD+ differs from NADP+ only in that NADP+ has a phos-
phate group esterified at the 2'-position of adenosine
ribose. Therefore, the ability of a dehydrogenase to dis-
criminate between those two lies in the particular enzyme
region that contacts the ribose moiety. The glycine-rich
region known to constitute the ADP-binding 3up fold is
well known to be this point of contact [26]. This Ross-
mann p3 x P fold is inevitably positioned at the extreme N

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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

terminus of TyrA proteins, and the typical GXGXXG motif
is almost always observed, as illustrated in Fig. 4. This
region is helpful for assessment of probable specificities
for pyridine nucleotide. One can be fairly sure that TyrA
proteins possessing D-32 (E. coli numbering, reference
[26]) are NAD+-specific. A negatively charged residue (D
or E) at position 32 is critical for hydrogen binding to the
diol group of the ribose near the adenine moiety in NAD+-
specific enzymes. NADP+-specific dehydrogenases cannot
tolerate a negatively charged residue at position 32. TyrA
proteins that possess an asparagine residue in the corre-
sponding position appear to be broadly specific for both
NAD+ and NADP+ as discussed above. No clearcut motif
has been identified for NADP+-specific TyrA proteins,
although at least one positively charged residue is
expected in the region just beyond residue 32. By elimina-
tion, those sequences lacking D-32 or N-32 are strong can-
didates for NADP+ specificity. As with the cyclohexadienyl
co-substrate, narrowed specificity for NAD+ (or NADP+)
also seems to have occurred independently on many occa-
sions (some examples given earlier).

The absolute specificity of TyrAp proteins for PPA tends to
be accompanied by absolute specificity for NAD+, as illus-
trated by the large Bacillus/Staphylococcus/Listeria/Entero-
coccus clade at eight o'clock in Fig. 2. However, it is
interesting that species of Streptococcus have retained the
presumed ancestral breadth of specificity for the pyridine
nucleotide substrate. The opposite relationship, whereby
absolute specificity for AGN tends to be accompanied by
absolute specificity for NADP+, is also observed. Here
three of the four TyrAa lineages described earlier exhibit
this pattern. Exceptions, though, are the aforementioned
TyrAa proteins of Actinobacteridae_l which accept either
NAD+ or NADP+, as well as the TyrAa proteins of the sister
Actinobacteridae_2 which are specialized for NAD+ [42,43].

The TyrA, proteins of most complete-genome organisms
thus far have happened to be NAD+-specific, and this has
been the property of the most rigorously characterized
ones (from Z. mobilis, P. stutzeri, and P. aeruginosa). How-
ever, it is clear from extensive enzymological surveys [22]
that TyrA, proteins having broad specificity for NAD+/
NADP+ are common, examples including species of Ralsto-
nia and Burkholderia. The spectrum of variation that can
exist, even within a clade of organisms that are of fairly
close relationship, is illustrated by one striking example.
In the pseudomonad clade marked by a common
trA*aroF fusion, the Acinetobacter sp. TyrA, is NADP+-spe-
cific [44], whereas the sister subclade Pseudomonas/Azoto-
bacter exhibits NAD+ specificity (Fig. 2). Here the entire
clade marked by a common ancestral fusion shares
approximately the same profile of cyclohexadienyl sub-
strate preference, but cofactor specificity has been nar-
rowed in opposite directions.

We had previously suggested that there might be a general
structural relationship of substrate pairing that tends to
favor interaction between PPA and NAD+, on the one
hand, and, on the other hand, between the greater posi-
tive charge of AGN and the greater negative charge of
NADP+. These relationships may indeed be favored, but it
increasingly appears that any combination can occur.

Beyond the catalytic core: allosteric domains
Various lineages have acquired an amino acid binding
domain known as the ACT domain (pfam01842), which
is known to bind a variety of amino acids, thus
functioning as an allosteric domain for many proteins
including phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, aspartoki-
nase, acetolactate synthase, phenylalanine hydroxylase,
prephenate dehydratase and formyltetrahydrofolate
deformylase. Recruitment of this domain by fusion with
tyrAp appears to have occurred in a common ancestor of
the large Bacillus/Staphylococcus/Listeria/Enterococcus/Strep-
tococcus assemblage (Fig. 2). It is interesting that B. subtilis
also possesses a gene encoding a free-standing ACT
domain in its genome (incorrectly annotated as pheB). An
additional fusion of genes encoding an ACT domain and
trA (that arose independently, judging from the widely
spaced tree positions) occurred in the common ancestor
of Xanthomonas and Xylella. Actinobacteria usually possess
a C-terminal extension that probably functions as an
allosteric domain. The extension possessed by the
Actinobacteridae_2 assemblage, which includes Streptomy-
ces coelicolor and its relatives, appears to be an ACT
domain. On the other hand, it is not all all clear that the
C-terminal extension of the Actinobacteridae_2 assemblage
is an ACT domain. This difference, in addition to the dif-
fering specificities for pyridine nucleotide substrate, may
have contributed to the overall TyrAa divergence observed
between the two Actinobacteridae groups. There is no cor-
relation between presence of the ACT domain and specif-
icity for cyclohexadienyl substrate since TyrAp from the
Bacillus clade is PPA-specific, Xanthomonas/Xylella TyrA, is
broadly specific, and Streptomyces TyrAa is AGN-specific.

B. subtilis, which belongs to the large clade having an ACT
domain as a carboxy extension, has been extensively char-
acterized [30]. 4-Hydroxyphenylpyruvate is an effective
competitive inhibitor, as would be consistent with our
proposed effects at the catalytic core for a PPA-specific
enzyme. However, TYR, phenylalanine (PHE) and tryp-
tophan were also inhibitors. The violation of the rule that
the latter three amino acid inhibitors would not be
expected to bind the catalytic core region (because they
have alanyl sidechains even though the substrate-binding
site only recognizes the pyruvyl sidechain of prephenate)
and the finding that some of these were not competitive
inhibitors can now be accounted for by the presence of the
allosteric ACT domain. A carboxy extension shared by a

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number of Archaea (denoted 'REG' in Fig. 2) is presuma-
bly a regulatory domain as well. This is consistent with the
recent result of Porat et al. [45] that not only 4-hydroxy-
phenylpyruvate, but also TYR, inhibited prephenate dehy-
drogenase activity of Methanococcus maripaludis.

The tyrA gene is a popular fusion partner
Fusion with aroQ
tyrA may be fused with a number of other catalytic
domains, each of them relevant to aromatic biosynthesis
(Fig. 2). aroQ (encoding chorismate mutase) is frequently
fused with a number of other aromatic-pathway genes
[46]. The lower-gamma Proteobacteria (enteric lineage)
located at twelve o'clock in Fig. 2 possess an aroQ*tyrAc A
fusion. The fusion physically links chorismate mutase
(which forms PPA) with TyrAc A (which utilizes PPA). The
two protein domains of AroQ*TyrAc A may have co-
evolved to produce cooperative protein-protein interac-
tions since physical separation of the domains evoked rel-
atively low activities of both activities in E. coli [32].
Substantial comparative work shows that the aroQ*tyrAc A
fusion has been stably maintained throughout the entire
enteric lineage [47]. Exceptions in some genomes lacking
this fusion altogether can be attributed to reductive
evolutionary loss in pathogens (e.g., Haemophilus ducreyi)
or endosymbionts (e.g., Buchnera aphidicola). An
independent aroQ*tyrA fusion was generated in the com-
mon ancestor of Sulfolobus solfataricus and S. tokodaii (Fig.
2). Since the TyrA domain of Sulfolobus species lacks the
indel structure of the TyrAc A class, it would be interesting
to see whether physical separation of the two domains
would yield evidence of independent function, in contrast
to the results mentioned just above for E. coli.

Fusion with aroF
Secondly, tyrAc has been fused with aroF on at least two
separate occasions in Bacteria. (The aroF gene encodes
enolpyruvylshikimate-3-P synthase, the sixth enzyme in
the common pathway of aromatic biosynthesis; see [5,6]
for nomenclature used.) One clade includes members of
the upper-gamma Proteobacteria: P. aeruginosa, P.
syringae, P. putida, P. stutzeri, P. fluorescens and Azotobacter
vinelandii. It is interesting that P. syringae has experienced
a deletion of about 200 residues at the N-terminal region
of the AroF domain. This has been coupled with the
acquisition of a stand-alone aroF gene that is absent in
other members of the clade. Interestingly, the latter AroF
shows high identity only with AroF from Agrobacterium
tumefaciens, an alpha proteobacterium. The A. tumefaciens
aroF, in turn, is unique compared to its a-subdivision rel-
atives, both in having divergent sequence and in being
unlinked to cmk and rpsA. Thus, it seems likely that the
incongruence of AroF belonging to both P. syringae and A.
tumefaciens reflects acquisition via LGT from some as yet
unknown source. The disruption of the fused aroF domain

in P. syringae is an unusual instance where the catalytic
function of one fusion domain has become discarded
while the function of the second domain has been
retained. It is interesting to consider the possibility that
the truncated remnant of the aroF fusion domain might be
exploitable for use as an innovative source of a new regu-
latory domain. An additional fusion of tyrA with aroF has
occurred independently within the beta Proteobacteria in
the common ancestor of Burkholderia pseudomallei and B.
mallei. This has been very recent since the closely related
B. fungorum and B. cepacia organisms lack the fusion.

It has been suggested that presence of a given fusion may
be useful for sorting out clades that diverged from a com-
mon ancestor, independent of other methods [48]. Differ-
ent fusions offer the power of discriminating clades at
various hierarchical levels, i.e., nested clades discrimi-
nated by nested gene fusions. The tyrA*aroF fusion
occurred in the common ancestor of the clade that
includes the upper-gamma Proteobacteria shown in Fig.
2. One can reasonably assume that relatively close upper-
gamma organisms lacking the tyrA*aroF fusion diverged
from the common ancestor of the fusion clade prior to the
fusion event. Such would appear to be the case, for exam-
ple, with Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, an outlying mem-
ber of the upper-gamma Proteobacteria that lacks the
fusion. It is reasonable to conclude that the fusion event
must have pre-dated the differential specialization for the
pyridine nucleotide cosubstrate that distinguishes Acineto-
bacter sp. (NADP+-specific) from the large grouping of
pseudomonads that are NAD+-specific.

Fusion with hisHb
Thirdly, a single organism, Rhodobacter sphaeroides, pos-
sesses a hisHbotyrA fusion that must have occurred very
recently. hisHb encodes an aromatic aminotransferase that
is closely related to (or sometimes even synonymous
with) imidazole acetol phosphate aminotransferase [49].
The hisHb/tyrA/aroF linkage group is part of a supraoperon
in some gram-negative bacteria in which a relatively con-
served, yet frequently shuffled gene order is observed
[5,6]. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that at the time
just prior to fusion, hisHb, tyrA and aroF were adjacent.
Note that among the fusions currently known, hisHb and
aroF are fused to the N-terminal and C-terminal ends of
tyrA, respectively. It would be interesting to know the sub-
strate specificity of the R. sphaeroides TyrA domain. If it is
AGN-specific the significance of hisHb presumably would
be to transaminate PPA to form AGN, the substrate used
by TyrAa (see Fig. 1). On the other hand, if the dehydroge-
nase is PPA-specific, the significance of the HisHb domain
would be to transaminate the product of the TyrAp reac-
tion. If the enzyme is a TyrA, enzyme (as is probable),
then HisHb likely is competent to catalyze either of the
foregoing reactions.

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Fusion with ACT
The widespread ACT regulatory domain appears to have
been acquired by independent fusions at least three sepa-
rate times judging from the widely separated lineages that
possess a TyrA*ACT fusion (Fig. 2). Xie et al. [5] initially
noted homologous domains positioned at the N terminus
of mammalian phenylalanine hydroxylase and at the C
terminus of most microbial prephenate dehydratases.
This domain is responsible for phenylalanine-mediated
activation and phenylalanine-mediated inhibition of the
hydroxylase and dehydratase enzymes, respectively. This
domain was later named the ACT domain [50] and shown
to be a widely distributed domain family that shares a
conserved overall fold. Members of the ACT-domain fam-
ily possess a wide variety of different ligand-binding capa-
bilities. For example, the ACT domain of 3-
phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase binds L-serine as a
allosteric inhibitor.

Fusion with REG
Another putative regulatory domain fused to tyrA
(denoted tyrAREG) is thus far restricted to some of the
Archaea. This domain is a predicted regulatory domain, as
described in COG4937.

A novel 4-domain fusion
Archaeoglobus fulgidus exhibits a striking four-domain
fusion consisting of three catalytic domains and a regula-
tory ACT domain (TyrA*AroQ*PheA*ACT). The TyrA
domain is predicted to belong to the TyrA, A class when
used as a query input into the AroPath Specificity Predic-
tor Tool [40]. We speculated earlier that the *AroQ fusion
domain of Archaeoglobus may exercise cooperative interac-
tions with TyrA, A, as appears to occur between the
AroQ*TyrA, A domains of E. coli and its relatives.

tyrA in its syntenic context
Although the genes of prokaryotes have clearly been sub-
ject to frequent scrambling, some gene-gene associations
persist more tenaciously than others. Xie et al. [5,6]
asserted that one such ancestral gene string that has
resisted scrambling forces is hisHb > tyrA > aroF. As sug-
gested above, contemporary gene fusions can serve as fro-
zen-in-time indicators of ancient gene organizations that
were later obscured by gene-scrambling events. Another
gene string that is often within the syntenic region of
hisHb, tyrA, and aroF is cmk > rpsA. Gene synteny in
prokaryotes has not been easily recognized because sub-
stantial manual scrutiny in combination with a sufficient
density of genomic representation on a given portion of
the phylogenetic tree is necessary to detect patterns of syn-
teny that are camouflaged by frequent scrambling events
(inversion, deletion and transposition).

The domain Bacteria is now represented by a collection of
sequenced genomes that is progressively approaching the
genomic densities needed for meaningful analysis. Figure
5 provides a visual sense of the frequency with which tyrA
is closely positioned with other genes of aromatic biosyn-
thesis, as well as the underlying patterns of overall syn-
teny. These patterns are unstable, and yet persistent traces
of synteny can be seen where genomic representation is
sufficiently dense. The four genes of particular emphasis
in this paper are color coded. Other genes that are engaged
in aromatic biosynthesis are colored grey, and any other
genes are white. At a very deep level of phylogenetic
branching, Thermotoga exhibits a tyrA gene flanked by
seven genes encoding all of the common steps of aromatic
biosynthesis (two of them being fused). Since closely
related genomes are not yet available here, we cannot
judge whether these genes came together recently or
whether an ancient pattern of synteny has been retained.
Although tyrA is not linked to any functionally relevant
genes in Aquifex, representing another point of deep phy-
logenetic branching, this does not necessarily mean that
tyrA was not already generally associated with other aro-
matic-pathway genes at an early time. For reasons that are
totally mysterious, certain scattered lineages exhibit a total
lack of operon organization for aromatic-pathway genes
(and indeed for most other biosynthetic pathways, such
as that for histidine biosynthesis). These lineages (Fig. 5)
include, besides Aquifex, those of Deinococcus, the actino-
mycetes, the cyanobacteria, and Chlorobium. Except for the
actinomycetes, this phenomenon of total gene dispersal
also applies to genes of tryptophan biosynthesis [7,8].

When the various examples of hisHb > tyrA > aroF linkage
are mapped on a 16S rRNA tree, they first appear in gram-
positive bacteria. In Bacillus and related organisms (such
as Listeria), the hisHb > tyrA > aroF unit is associated with a
large ancestral operon consisting of aroG > aroB > aroH >
hisHb > tyrAp> aroF. Bacillus additionally possesses the cmk
> rpsA unit, albeit in a separate location. Interestingly, in
one narrow subclade (B. subtilis, B. halodurans and B.
stearothermophilus) the trp operon has been inserted
between aroH and hisHb to yield a supraoperon that has
been fully characterized as a complex functional unit [51].
See Xie et al. [7] for a full presentation of evolutionary
interpretation relevant to the latter. Though highly scram-
bled, a pattern of association of pheA with hisHb > tyrA
>aroF is suggested by linkage patterns seen at the hierar-
chical level of Cytophaga and Bacteroides (Fig. 5). aroQ
became associated with pheA through gene fusion as early
as the divergence of the Spirochaetes to yield an
aroQ*pheA>trA>aroF>cmk>rpsA linkage unit (Leptospira
interrogans in Fig. 5). The aroQ*pheA gene associated with
tyrA and aroF in Clostridium difficile appears to have arisen
from a distinctly different fusion event than that present
in delta, epsilon, beta and upper-gamma Proteobacteria

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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

Aquifex pyrophilus
Thermotoga maritima
Deinococcus radiodurans
Clostridium acetobutylicum
Desulfitobacterium hafniense
-Listeria monocytogenes
Enterococcus faecalis
Streptococcus mutansf
Lactococcus lactis
Leuconostoc mesenteroides
-- Clostridium difficile

---- Actinomycetes

|AroA tyrA I i. I aroGroEoaroB aroCI


| AroGA IH hH>rA .11 rI r

-Trp OperonS Lt D11 .1


Chlorobium tepidum GENE DISPERSAL
Cytophaga hutchinsonii aroAaro
Bacteroides fragilis/ aroAaro
Leptospira interrogans
Geobacter sulfurreducens/Gmet/Dace

-- Desulfovibrio vulgaris/Ddes \pTrp Operong>
Campylobacterjejuni e |
Consensus (a Proteobacteria ) T

0.1 Consensus (P Prot.) [
Consensus (Upper-y Prot.)
Consensus (Lower-y Prot.) | g

Figure 5
Context of gene organization for tyrA, profiled against the I 6S rRNA tree of the domain Bacteria. pheA, hisHb, tyrA, and aroF are
color coded. Lineages typified by complete dispersal of aromatic-pathway genes are indicated by "GENE DISPERSAL". Gmet
refers to Geobacter metallireducens; Dace refers to Desulfuromonas acetoxidans; and Ddes refers to Desulfovibrio desulfuricans.
Consensus gene organizations are shown for the alpha and beta divisions of the Proteobacteria. The gamma division is subdi-
vided to yield consensus gene organizations for the upper- and lower-gamma (enteric lineage) organisms. Genes that are adja-
cent and share a common transcriptional direction appear to reside in operons (or supraoperons). Any white spacing indicates
substantial separation of the gene clusters shown in the genome. Genes of special interest are color coded, other genes of aro-
matic biosynthesis are shown in gray and all other genes are shown in white.

or from that present in lower-gamma Proteobacteria
(based upon analysis of inter-domain linker regions;
unpublished data).

Consensus ancestral gene organizations for the most
densely represented divisions of Proteobacteria have been
deduced as shown at the bottom of Fig. 5. Detailed infor-
mation that supports a deduced consensus for ancestral
gene organizations with respect to beta Proteobacteria,

upper-gamma Proteobacteria, and lower-gamma Proteo-
bacteria are shown later (Figs. 6, 7). We suggest that the
last common ancestor of all Proteobacteria possessed the
gene organization aroQ*pheA>hisHb>tyrA>aroF>cmk>rpsA.
This is similar to the synteny that has been retained in gen-
eral by the beta Proteobacteria and the upper-gamma
Proteobacteria. The aroQ*pheA>hisHb>tyrA portion likely
specified all the catalytic requirements for conversion of
chorismate to PHE and conversion of chorismate to TYR.

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Nitrosomonas europaea
Ralstonia metallidurans
Burkholderia cenocepacia
eta Burkholderia pseudomallei
----- Burkholderia mallei J
1( Bordetella parapertussis
-- Chromobacterium violaceum

1 PE """ ... ';' '/;
Neisseria gonorrhoeae J
Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans

S Xylella fastidiosa
Xanthomonas campestris
Xanthomonas axonopodis
Legionella pneumophila
-- Coxiella burnetii

Azotobacter vinelandii
Pseudomonas stutzeri
Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Pseudomonas putida
4 Pseudomonas fluorescensJ
7 5 Pseudomonas syringae
- Acinetobacter species
Microbulbifer degradans
6 8

IgrA ^serA>aroQpheA tyrA nrspAim>
[jEArc OREaroQ pheA b tyrA i. .I ,il, rspA
gyrAX OR5yEraroQrpheA t .rA l rspA himD

|gyrAC| ORE.aroQIpheA i \ nl krspA himD

er> C aroQopheA i \ .id innl rspA hiD


gyrAeAaroQpheA tyrA. b.IDspA

se aroQpheA
[gyrA erc ^..ItnnilrpA 4 A>
|gyrAser( .ii ..Itlnl, rspA r aroQepbjA :l -
|gyAerC aroQpheA his i a \.i..I i nk rspA
| serC roQepheAhiSHbtyrAearoF cmk rspAbhimD

aoh LGT Intrusion
r aroQpheA '\.ii.'.i'.) >rspA >i
gyrA ORE ORE ORF|seC o|aroQepheAi \.
aroQspheAi \... rspA

I.IIIt I 1 1111 dLJ I'tl I lu "i
( *-" tr nIII II.I

Figure 6
Zoom-in from Fig. 5 showing tyrA synteny for the beta Proteobacteria and the upper-gamma Proteobacteria. The tree shown,
based upon I6S rRNA sequences of the indicated organisms, indicates correct branching orders, but (to facilitate presentation)
is not strictly correct in proportion. Circled numbers (in violet) indicate deduced evolutionary events for the beta Proteobac-
teria (see top of Table 5), whereas circled numbers (in pink; see bottom of Table 5) correspond to deduced evolutionary
events for the upper-gamma Proteobacteria. Gene organizations of organisms indicated are shown on the right. The dotted
outlining of some gene boxes in Coxiella burnetii and in P. syringae indicates pseudogene status.

Chorismate mutase activity specified by the aroQ domain
could supply PPA for both PHE and TYR biosynthesis.
Likewise, HisHb, widely utilized as an aromatic ami-
notransferase [49], could also function for both PHE and
TYR biosynthesis. Though currently available members of
delta and epsilon Proteobacteria exhibit substantial gene
scrambling, the various fragmentary linkage patterns seen
provide support for the ancestor proposed. Geobacter (and
other Delta_l members) has the aroQ*pheA > tyrA > aroF
> cmk > rpsA linkage group (with lytB inserted between
cmk and rpsA). Desulfovibrio vulgaris, another delta Proteo-
bacterium (Delta_2) that is highly divergent from Geo-

bacter, has a very interesting pattern of conservation and
scrambling. aroQ*pheA > aroF > tyrA has been attached to
a complete 7-gene trp operon. hisHb > cmk (not shown in
Fig. 5) is completely separated from rpsA. The supraoper-
onic gene organization shown for D. vulgaris begins with
two recently discovered genes, herein denoted aroA' and
aroB', that encode enzymes specifying an alternative bio-
chemical route to dehydroquinate [52]. The epsilon Pro-
teobacteria all display significant gene scrambling, but
piecemeal evidence for the unscrambled ancestor pro-
posed is present. For example, Campylobacter jejuni pos-
sesses an aroQ*pheA > hisHb unit, as well as aroF > lytB >

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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

ii .1 aL 3 hub
~ ~shi~D

E3I~ E~ ETh~ ~jshimD
ED EThP~ ~jshi~D




Upper Gamma (see Fig. 6)

S- Photobacterium profundum

-Vibrio vulnificus
Lower Vibrio parahaemolyticus

Figure 7
Zoom-in from Fig. 5 showing tyrA synteny for the lower-gamma Proteobacteria (enteric lineage). Deduced phylogenetic events
numbered on the left are described in Table 6. The branching position for Buchnera is as suggested in ref. [7]. Dotted horizon-
tal lines near the top of the tree indicate branch lengths that were shortened for convenience of presentation. Dotted outlining
of boxes around some genes indicates their pseudogene status. It is unknown if the various open reading frame (ORF) inser-
tions are functional.

rpsA (Fig. 5). Wollinella succinogenes and Helicobacter hepat-
icus both possesses an aroF > lytB > rpsA unit.

The ancestor of alpha Proteobacteria has lost the
aroQ*pheA fusion, and a stand-alone pheA is consistently
observed. Members of this group are quite uniform in the
stable possession of hisHb > tyrA and aroF > cmk > rpsA as
two separated linkage groups. The beta Proteobacteria are
represented by members that have the gene organization:
serC > aroQ*pheA > hisHb > tyrA > aroF > cmk > rpsA. This

is also seen in the members of the upper-gamma

Figure 5 includes organisms that illustrate the traces of
synteny that can be detected in Bacteria where overall
genome representation is just barely adequate. The fol-
lowing two figures illustrate how syntenic patterns of
more resolution and refinement become evident with
denser genome representation.

Page 20 of 30
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IMO* hAar'oSi ORF ORF ORF ORF tyrAearo ro^S^.

|aroQopheAOR OR OR trpR ORF||oR oR JA aro roAj|

OROROpheo p e tRrrA earo roA
OReoORp ORF ORRyrAoaro roAijc

.......,........,.... =Ai
|aroQpheA OyrAoaro oi
|aroQ pheA 4EyrAoaro roAiI.
|aroQo h 4yrAoaro r oAi j|

aroQ pheA yrAearo roAij
aroQe pheAtyrA&aroroAij|

aroQheA ORyrAarofroAi

|aroQ phe RyrAaroAroAi.

,C I- -- H. actino- isH aro

Haemophilus ducreyi
Pasteurella multocida
S it .....

~| - lu iI ... ., >

I Yersiniapestis | | rC ckP
I/ -Erwinia carotovora |r froFkr
Escherichia coli
.. 1, .... .. > roORycaL
Salmonella typhi |' [e ) a k
., Salmonella |> | roya k
0 typhymurium

Table 5: Key to evolutionary events asserted in Figure 6


Evolutionary events) proposed

Beta I Dispersal of aroQ.pheA > hisHb > tyrA away from one another and away from gyrA > serC and from cmk > rspA > himD;
inversion of aroF with respect to cmk.
2 Complete dispersal of all nine genes originally in the gyrA/himD linkage group.
3 Insertion of serA after serC,; separation of tyrA and aroF to yield the separated 6-gene unit and 4-gene unit shown.
4 Expulsion of hisHbfrom the genome; insertion of 'ORF' after serC.
5 Fusion of tyrA with aroF.
6 Loss of hisHb from genome.
Upper-Gamma I Insertion of serA after serCa; insertion of aroAj, after hisHb.
2 Translocation of hisHb and tyrA to other regions, leaving two separated 3-gene units.
3 Fusion of tyrA with aroF.
4 Loss of hisHb.
5 N-terminal deletion of *aroF domain, and acquisition of new aroF gene (probable LGT).
6 Separation of cmk > rpsA > himD from aroQ.pheA > tyrA*aroF.
7 Insertion of 4 unknown genes between gyrA and serC in opposite orientation and separation of gyrA > ORF > ORF > ORF
> serC from aroQ.pheA > tyrA*aroF.
8 Loss of himD; translocation of serC away from gyrA and aroQ.pheA.

aSince both Nitrosomonas (beta Proteobacteria) and Acidothiobacillus (upper-gamma Proteobacteria) emerge at deep positions in the tree of Fig. 5, an
almost equally parsimonius possibility is that the ancestral serA was retained in this syntenic position in these two genera, but was transposed
elsewhere shortly after early divergence.

Zooming in on syntenic contexts of proteobacteria
Beta proteobacteria and upper-gamma proteobacteria
The beta Proteobacteria exhibit a dynamic but still inter-
pretable pattern of altered synteny (Fig. 6 and Table 5).
Species of Ralstonia have retained the proposed ancestral
synteny that is marked with yellow highlighting in Fig. 6.
This syntenic organization is such that the aromatic-gene
unit aroQ*pheA > hisHb > tyrA > aroF is nested between
gyrA > serC at the leftward flank and cmk > rpsA > himD at
the rightward flank. Species of Burkholderia (the next clos-
est lineage) are almost identical, but exhibit individual
evolutionary events (marked by circled numbers on the
left, which correspond to a description of the proposed
evolutionary events given in companion Table 5). These
events include gene insertion, loss of hisHb, translocation
of genes away from the ancestral supraoperon, and fusion
of tyrA and aroF (in the common ancestor of B. mallei and
B. pseudomallei). At a deeper level in the beta Proteobacte-
ria section of the tree, Nitrosomonas europaea exhibits a
separation of the ancestral supraoperon between tyrA and
aroF. Either a very large insertion was made between tyrA
and aroF, or one of the two gene clusters shown was trans-
posed as part of a sufficiently large segment to include all
of the conserved flanking genes. In Chromobacterium viol-
aceum tyrA has become completely isolated from other
gene members of the ancestral supraoperon, and aroF has
assumed an inverted orientation with respect to cmk. Spe-
cies of Neisseria exhibit no remnants of supraoperon syn-
teny at all, and wholesale dispersal of all the supraoperon
genes has occurred. (It is interesting that among the beta
Proteobacteria, Neisseria species are also unique in that all
of the trp-pathway genes are dispersed [7]).

The gamma Proteobacteria have separated into two dis-
tinctly different synteny patterns. The lower-gamma Pro-
teobacteria have undergone marked syntenic change (see
below). The assemblage portrayed between Acidithiobacil-
lus and Microbulbifer in the lower part of Fig. 6 (termed the
upper-gamma Proteobacteria) exhibit a strong overall
syntenic resemblance of supraoperon genes to that of the
beta Proteobacteria. Acidithiobacillus possesses a near-
intact ancestral supraoperon, differing only in having two
insertions: one gene encoding 3-deoxy-D-arabino-heptu-
losonate 7-phosphate (DAHP) synthase between hisHb
and tyrA, and the other being the insertion of serA between
serC and aroQ*pheA. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and P. stutzeri
have also retained nearly intact ancestral supraoperons,
differing only in the fusion of tyrA and aroF. The serC >
aroQ*pheA > hisHb > tyrA*aroF > cmk > rpsA supraoperon
has been studied in P. stutzeri [5,6]. The tyrA*aroF fusion
occurred in the common ancestor of the clade shown
between Azotobacter and Microbulbifer in Fig. 6. The
supraoperons of P. syringae, P. fluorescens and P. putida
lack hisHb. P. syringae exhibits a recent C-terminal trunca-
tion of the aroF domain, coupled with acquisition else-
where in the genome of a free-standing *aroF that is not
phylogenetically congruent (probably of LGT origin). Aci-
netobacter sp. and Microbulbifer degradans possess an
aroQ*pheA > tyrA*aroF unit that has become dissociated
from serC at one end and from cmk on the other end. In
Xylella and Xanthomonas, hisHb has been deleted from the
genome and tyrA has been transposed away from serC >
aroQ*pheA > aroF. The latter unit has been transposed
away from gyrA, the ancestral flanking gene. On the other

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Table 6: Key to evolutionary events asserted in Figure 7


hand, cmk > rpsA has remained next to himD, the gene usu-
ally flanking rpsA.

The enteric lineage
The lower-gamma Proteobacteria differ sharply from
upper-gamma Proteobacteria in their possession of the
tyrAc class of tyrA and its fusion with aroQ. In Fig. 2 this
clade of AroQ*TyrAc A fusions was presented as one exhib-
iting absolute specificity for NAD+, combined with an
overwhelming but not complete specificity for PPA. In Fig.
7 the gene synteny associated with tyrAc is profiled
against the 16S rRNA phylogenetic trees of the lower-
gamma Proteobacteria possessing these genes, and the
proposed evolutionary events are summarized in the com-
panion Table 6. Figure 5 has indicated a synteny consen-
sus for the common ancestor at this hierarchical level
whereby gyrA > serC > hisHb > aroF > cmk > rpsA parallels
the ancestral synteny of P-Proteobacteria, but without
aroQ*pheA or tyrA in the middle of the linkage group.
Many dynamic evolutionary events of altered aromatic
biosynthesis have occurred within the lower-gamma Pro-
teobacteria since their divergence from the upper-gamma
Proteobacteria. This includes the emergence of three
allosterically distinct DAHP synthases, one of which now
comprises the two-gene, three-domain tyr operon
(aroAl, y> aroQ*tyrAc A). The upper-gamma Proteobacte-
ria characteristically possess the aroAiparalogs encoding
AroAlo H (TRP-inhibited DAHP synthase) and AroA1, y
(TYR-inhibited DAHP synthase). It has been asserted that

AroAla_ F (PHE-inhibited DAHP synthase) was the most
recent paralog, acquired just after divergence of the lower-
gamma Proteobacteria [53]. It is bizarre that Shewanella
oneidensis possesses a pseudogene of aroAlp fused to the C
terminus of aroQ*pheA. The aroAlp subclass of Family-I
DAHP synthases is not usually observed in gram-negative
bacteria [54].

The dissociation of tyrAc A from the serC/rpsA linkage
group correlates with the fusion of aroQ with tyrA A. The
aroQ*pheA fusion has also escaped from the serC/rpsA
linkage grouping and has become linked with the newly
emerged tyr operon. Some sort of duplication and recom-
binational event between aroQopheA and tyrAc A may have
led to the creation of aroQ*tyrAc A since the AroQ*PheA
proteins of lower-gamma Proteobacteria are distinct from
AroQ*PheA proteins of other Proteobacteria with respect
to the inter-domain linker length and the indel content
(data not shown).

Although it usually is absent from the lower-gamma Pro-
teobacteria, HisHb has persisted as the broad-specificity
aromatic aminotransferase in the Pasteurella/Haemophilus
grouping where two hisH paralogs are generally present,
one of narrow specificity (denoted hisHn) being within the
histidine operon. The aspC gene next to aroF in Shewanella
is a paralog that probably functions as an aromatic ami-
notransferase, suggestive of the situation in the E. coli
grouping where tyrB is a close paralog relative of aspC, tyrB

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Evolutionary events proposed

Escape of aroQ.pheA and tyrA from the ancestral gyrA > serC > aroQ.pheA > hisHb> tyrA > aroF > cmk > rpsA > himD supraoperon.
Origin of an aroQ'tyrA fusion. Origin of the aroA,1 y > aroQ'tyrA operon. Addition of tyrR. Addition of third aroA,1 species: aroA. pF
Fusion of aroQ-pheA with aroAlp pseudogene of unknown origin. Replacement of hisHb by aspC duplicate linked with three ORFs.
Dissociation of gyrA and serC.
Removal of all genes intervening between aroQ-pheA and aroQwtyrA.
Dissociation of aroF from both serC and cmk > rpsA > himD. Insertion of trpR within the intervening region between aroQ-pheA and
aroQ tyrA.
Dissociation of serC > hisHb > aroF from cmk > rpsA > himD.
Loss of aroA,1 y from tyr operon.
aroF becomes dissociated from hisHb, and aroAg1 y is removed from the tyrA operon.
ORF > gyrA is inserted after aroF.
aroQwtyrA becomes a pseudogene.
hisHb is lost.
himD is lost.
cmk, himD and aroA,1 y > aroQwtyrA are lost.
aroF, himD, aroQ-pheA, and aroA1, y > aroQwtyrA are lost.
All intervening genes between aroQ-pheA and aroQ.tyrA are eliminated.
pheA domain of aroQ-pheA becomes a pseudogene.
Insertion of ycaL between aroF and cmk.
Insertion of ORF between aroF and ycaL.
Insertion of ORF between aroQ-pheA and aroQ.tyrA.

BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

having become specialized for aromatic biosynthesis [49].
Gene reduction associated with both endosymbiotic and
pathogenic lifestyles are evident. Thus, Buchnera lacks
tyrA, cmk, hisH, tyrB, and possesses only a single aroA1aspe-
cies (aroAla H). Haemophilus ducreyi also lacks tyrA, as well
as aroAla H and the entire trp operon [5].

TyrA in its context of regulation
TyrR regulon
Knowledge of the gene regulation impacting TyrA in
prokaryotes is sparse, being limited to the lower-gamma
Proteobacteria. Here, extensive information gathered
from E. coli has revealed that aroQ*tyrAc A belongs to a
large regulon controlled by the TyrR repressor. The limited
phylogenetic distribution of TyrR, being present only in
the lower-gamma Proteobacteria (Fig. 8), indicates that it
is a recent evolutionary acquisition. In E. coli the regulon
members that are under the control of tyrR are the aroAic y
> tyrA operon, the aroLM operon, tyrP, tyrB, aroP, mtr,
aroAy1 F and tyrR itself [55]. Thus, tyrR not only regulates
the tyrosine branch of the pathway, but heavily impacts
the common pathway and the transport of all three aro-
matic amino acids as well.

Although outside the scope of this study, a logical expan-
sion of it would be to examine the individual evolutionary
histories of all the members of the contemporary E. coli
TyrR regulon, i.e., asking when and in what order did
these genes come under the influence of tyrR? Clearly, the
recruitment of structural genes by tyrR has been recent,
quite dynamic and even now, exhibits evidence of further
ongoing change. For example, tyrosine phenol-lyase (a
catabolic enzyme that is only sparsely present in gamma
Proteobacteria) has been recruited to the TyrR regulons of
Erwinia herbicola [56] and Citrobacterfreundii [57]. In these
cases, not only does TyrR perform as a transcriptional acti-
vator, but it requires cyclic AMP receptor protein and inte-
gration host factor to do so.

As exemplified by E. coli, TyrR is generally a repressor.
However, the transcriptional expression of mtr is activated
by TyrR in the presence of TYR, and tyrP is activated in the
presence of PHE (although it is repressed in the presence
of TYR). The N-terminal domain of TyrR has been associ-
ated with the ability of TyrR to activate transcription in the
case of mtr and tyrP [55]. Members of the Haemophilus/Pas-
teurella lineage have all lost the N-terminal domain and
presumably all lack the ability to accomplish transcrip-
tional activation, as has been demonstrated experimen-
tally with H. influenzae TyrR [58].

In view of the interesting complexity that two operons
(mtr and aroLM) in E. coli are regulated by both tyrR and
trpR [55], it may be more than coincidental that tyrR and
trpR seem to have emerged at about the same evolutionary

time, i.e., coincident with the divergence of the upper-
gamma Proteobacteria from the lower-gamma Proteobac-
teria (Fig. 7). A possible interaction between the TyrR and
TrpR proteins has been noted [55].

PhhR in relationship to aromatic catabolism
Arias-Barrau et al. [59] have recently characterized a cen-
tral catabolic pathway (Hmg) that degrades homoge-
ntisate in three steps to fumarate and acetoacetate as a
source of carbon and energy. One of several peripheral
pathways feeding into the central pathway begins with
PHE and produces homogentisate via the reactions of
phenylalanine hydroxylase (Phh), aromatic aminotrans-
ferase, and 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (Hpd).
In the absence of Phh, a shorter version of the peripheral
pathway is one that can use TYR, but not PHE, as a source
of carbon and energy. In Fig. 8 the presence of Phh, Hpd,
and Hmg segments of catabolism are mapped on a 16S
rRNA tree. (The aromatic aminotransferase distribution is
not shown since a multiplicity of aromatic aminotrans-
ferases having overlapping substrate specificities makes it
particularly challenging to identify the functional role
[49].) The cyanobacteria are unique among Bacteria in the
use of Hpd for a completely different metabolic role unre-
lated to aromatic catabolism, i.e., the synthesis of vitamin
E derivatives [60].

PhhR is a homolog of TyrR that has been shown in P. aer-
uginosa to be a divergently transcribed activator of a 3-
gene operon needed for PHE and TYR catabolism [61].
The structural genes encode phenylalanine hydroxylase
(phhA), carbinolamine dehydratase (phhB) and 4-hydrox-
yphenylpyruvate aminotransferase (phhC), and are pow-
ered by a y54 promoter [61,62]. PhhR evolved relatively
recently since it is only present in some gamma Proteo-
bacteria (Fig. 8). The ancestral regulatory gene for the Phh
peripheral pathway may have been a member of the leu-
cine-responsive regulatory protein/asparagine synthase C
(Lrp/AsnC) family judging from the adjacent and
divergently oriented position of asnC genes to phhA in
organisms such as Xanthomonas axonopodis and Mesorhizo-
bium loti. A recent overview of the many different regulator
families involved in the control of aromatic catabolism
conveys an emerging sense of the variety and dynamic
evolutionary processes that underlie aromatic catabolism
[63]. Occasional distant homologs of phhR that appear in
erratic fashion (see Fig. 9) may have some other regulatory
function. For example, Clostridium tetani may use its PhhR
homolog as a transcriptional activator of the gene encod-
ing tyrosine phenol-lyase, as occurs in species of Erwinia
[56] and Citrobacter [57].

Relationship of TyrR and PhhR
What might be of origin of TyrR? TyrR is an anomalous
member of the large prokaryote family of y54 enhancer-

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Picrophilus torridus Hpd [ C
- Sulfolobus solfataricus Clos BCni
Clostridium tetani
SBacillus cereus "
Bacillus anthracis 11 Hpd | A C
LBacillus thuringiensisj
"-Streptomyces avermitilis-L Hpd g C
Streptomyces coelicolor J
Mycobacterium avium |m C
Corynebacterium efficiens
Corynebacterium glutamicum
I'Mhl.~tm in nof"mnino

< Cyanobacteria Hpd
Bdellovibrio bacteriovorusP Hpd
Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hpd
Agrobacterium tumefaciens
Sinorhizobium meliloti Phh B Hpd
Mesorhizobium loti P Hpd
r-Rhodopseudomonas palustris-l ,H ---pd -
L.-Bradyrhizobiumjaponicum .j
Caulobacter crescentus 3 Hpd g(
Chromobacterium violaceum Phh HpdEEjj Ul
Bordetella pertussis
Bordetella bronchiseptica Hpd
Bordetella parapertussis J
h- Rubrivivax gelatinosus
Burkholderia fungorum
Burkholderia cepacia
Ralstonia solanacearu Hpd
-- Ralstonia eutropha
SRalstonia metallidurans
Xanthomonas axonopodis -
Xanthomonas campestris A pd
0.0250 -1Hpd
____ _________ Legionella pneumophila hh Hpd g
Azotobacter vinelandii P Hpd [-g--B-
Pseudomonas aeruginosa 1
Pseudomonasputida H pd----- h--hhR-
Pseudomonasfluorescens Hpd
Pseudomonas syringae __ h
0.0125 Shewanella oneidensis P Hpd h ghA 5X I
-- -----Photobacterium profundum
r-"""" Vibrio cholerae L Hpd -X FTyrR.
_-- Vibrio parahaemolyticus !-- HpdT
Vibrio vulnificus J
0.025 Haemophilus ducreyi
0.125 f-H H. actinomycetemcomitans _
0.1 I -"}-Haemophilus somnus TyrR
Haemophilus influenzae
----- Pasteurella multocida
Photorhabdus luminescens
Yersinia pestis
Erwinia carotovora
Erwinia herbicola
Citrobacter braakii TyrR
Pantoea agglomerans
Salmonella typhimurium
EI scherichia coli
Shigella flexneri

Figure 8
Distribution of modules of aromatic catabolism mapped on a 16S rRNA tree. In this figure, only presence or absence (not gene
order) is indicated. The Phh module (orange) consists of phenylalanine hydroxylase (PhhA), carbinolamine dehydratase (PhhB),
and tyrosine aminotransferase (not shown, see Text), and accomplishes the overall conversion of PHE to 4-hydroxyphe-
nylpyruvate. The Hpd module (yellow) is 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase, which converts 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate to
homogentisate. The Hmg module (blue) catalyzes the 3-step conversion of homogentisate to acetoacetate and fumarate. The
distribution of PhhR and TyrR is shown in boxes. In some cases the HmgC member is shaded light blue to indicate that the
gene encoding this isomerase could not be found and is probably encoded by an as yet unknown analog. Some long branches
are drawn with gaps that represent 25% of the length of the scale bar.

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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13


I I 1

I I 1












ao4-contact motif




Figure 9
Protein tree of TyrR homologs. Nodes supported by bootstrap values of 998 or more are marked with solid circles, and the
bootstrap values for nodes internal to these are shown. Generic names relevant to the organism abbreviations can be viewed
in Fig. 8. A conserved region containing the 5s4 contact motif GAFTGA is highlighted as an orange band. "Imperfect" residues
in this region are shown in lower-case fonts. Residue numbers are shown at the right. TyrR and PhhR are regulators of a70 and
5s4 promoters, respectively. Four 5s4 proteins of unknown function have very long branches, and to facilitate the visual presen-
tation, the gaps in branch continuity shown represent a scale-bar distance of 0.1. Clades possessing 5s4 regulators are indicated
with blue stripes, and y70 regulators are indicated with green stripes.

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----- EGKKGi

----- EGKKGE

----- EGKKGE

----- EGKKGE












?---- E IGE

binding proteins that activate promoters dependent upon
054. TyrR is unique within its homology grouping in that
it targets 070 promoters for regulation, usually (but not
always) being a repressor. Its closest homolog relative is
PhhR, a canonical member of 054 enhancer-binding
proteins. 054-dependent enhancer proteins possess a
highly conserved o54-contact motif, GAFTGA, that is inti-
mately involved in formation of the ternary complex of
enhancer and o54-RNA polymerase holoenzyme [641. This
is perfectly or nearly perfectly retained in the upper clades
shown in Fig. 9, but is disrupted or completely absent in
the clades between Shewanella oneidensis and Pasteurella
multocida. The deeper phylogenetic distribution of PhhR
(Fig. 8) suggests that TyrR evolved as a variant of PhhR. If
correct, a regulatory gene that is oriented to catabolism
(phhR), and itself of relatively recent origin, was con-
scripted even more recently for a completely new role in
the regulation of primary biosynthesis (tyrR).

Consistent with the latter supposition, the gain of TyrR
generally correlates with the loss of competence for
aromatic catabolism (Fig. 8). In contrast to the Citrobacter/
Salmonella/Escherichia/ lii ,..ii. and the Pasteurella/Haemo-
philus clades (whose TyrR homologs completely lack the
GAFTGA motif), the remaining enteric clades have
retained some residues in this region. These residues
appear to be more than random remnants. It would be
interesting to know if these residues have any functional
significance. Indeed, the Photobacterium/Vibrio clade has
retained the ancestral catabolic capabilities (Fig. 8) that
would appear to demand retention of regulation via
PhhR; yet the parallelism of the overall features of biosyn-
thesis that are shared with other lower-gamma Proteobac-
teria would seem, on the other hand, to demand TyrR-
mediated regulation. Perhaps this "TyrR" species partici-
pates in the regulation of both catabolic and biosynthetic
genes. In this connection, it is interesting that Chaney et
al. [64] found that a change in the GAFTGA motif of NifA
could be partially "suppressed" by mutational changes in
the N-terminal region of 054.

Even more striking as a possible evolutionary intermedi-
ate is the most outlying member of the lower- gamma Pro-
teobacteria, Shewanella oneidensis. The position of its TyrR
on the protein tree parallels expectations based on the 16S
rRNA tree. This, plus the conservation of the TyrR regulon
features and the overall gene synteny suggest E. coli-like
function as TyrR, i.e. acting as a general repressor of regu-
lon-member 070 promoters engaged in aromatic biosyn-
thesis. However, the location of "tyrR" in S. oneidensis
between phhA and phhB on one side, and hmgB and hmgC
on the other side, strongly implies some kind of
regulatory relationship with the catabolic genes. It would
be quite interesting to determine experimentally whether
"TyrR" in S. oneidensis (and maybe Vibrio, as well) can

function as a repressor of the usual suite of 070 promoters,
as well as an activator of 054 promoters for phhA/phhB
and/or hmgB/hmgC.

We suggest that TyrR evolved as a modified version of
PhhR as follows. In view of the distribution of genes
encoding PhhR and TyrR, as well as the aforementioned
catabolic enzymes, the most parsimonious evolutionary
scenario may be that central and peripheral catabolic
pathways depicted in Fig. 8 are quite ancient, but acquisi-
tion of PhhR as a 054-dependent activator of phenyla-
lanine hydroxylase was quite recent, originating about the
time of divergence of gamma Proteobacteria. The clade
defined by Shewanella/Vibrio/Photobacterium retained the
catabolic pathway, whereas the other enteric lineages dis-
carded the catabolic pathway, but retained PhhR, which
was then recruited as a oy7-dependent regulator of aro-
matic biosynthesis (TyrR).

Regulation by attenuation
A widespread mechanism of regulation is via an attenua-
tion mechanism whereby transcripts initiated at given
promoters can be terminated prior to reaching the struc-
tural genes of an operon. Whether termination occurs
usually depends on the balance (dictated by a variety of
mechanisms) between mutually exclusive terminator and
anti-terminator structures [65].

Merino has developed a website [66] to provide a data-
base of putative attenuators ahead of various operons in
Bacteria. We screened this database for likely attenuators
relevant to the regulation of tyrA. Table 7 shows intriguing
results that point to significant experimental work that
would be desirable. tyrA is frequently a member of appar-
ent supraoperons, as alluded to elsewhere in this paper,
and some of these appear to be large gene clusters control-
led by attenuation. Substantial work is needed to establish
the depth of clades possessing a given attenuator. For
example, the hisHb > tyrA operon is reliably present
throughout all alpha Proteobacteria. Since Agrobacterium
tumefaciens has been found to possess an attenuator ahead
of the hisHb > tyrA operon, one might reasonably expect
that most of the alpha Proteobacteria would possess the
attenuator as well. If not, this attenuator would have been
a very recent evolutionary innovation. Likewise, since the
aroA, y > tyrA operon is widely present throughout the
lower-gamma Proteobacteria, it would be interesting to
confirm whether only the several species of Vibrio identi-
fied on the Merino website have an attenuator ahead of
this operon (or whether other attenuators present are too
weak to exceed the threshold imposed for preliminary

Some of the supraoperons that appear to be controlled by
attenuation are interesting in that they contain the

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Table 7: Putative attenuatorsa associated with tyrA

Gene organization

Agrobacterium tumefaciens
Bacillus anthracis
Bacillus cereus
Bacillus halodurans
Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron
Bordetella parapertussis
Desulfovibrio vulgaris
Enterococcus faecalis
Lactococcus lactis
Lactobacillus plantarum
Listeria innocua
Streptococcus pneumoniae
Thermoanaerobacter tencongensis
Thermus thermophilus
Vibrio parahaemolyticus
Vibrio vulnificus

,hisHb > tyrA
aroG > hisHb > tyrA > aroF
aroG > hisHb > tyrA > aroF
tyrA > aroF
pheA > hisHb > aroAljaroQ > tyrA
gyrA > serC > aroQ'pheA > tyrA > aroF > cm k> rpsA > himD
aroA' > aroB' > aroQ-pheA > aroF > tyrA > [trp operon]
aroD > aroAl> aroB > aroG > tyrA > aroF > aroE > pheA
ysaA > blrG > kinG > tyrA > aroF > aroE > pheA
ORF > aroG > ORF > aroF > tyrA > aroE
aroG > aroB > aroH > hisH b > tyrA > aroF
ORF>aroC|>aroD>aroB>aroG>tyrA > ORF>aroF>aroE>pheA
pheA > aroAl0 > tyrA > aroF > ORF > ORF
7aroAlf> tyrA
yaroA y > tyrA
yaroA|, Y > tyrA

aAttenuators were extracted from the website of Merino [66]. Links are provided for viewing the complete data, including a visualization of the
putative attenuator structures.
bThe symbol is used for attenuators. Genes encoding the alternative biochemical steps that were recently reported for formation of
dehydroquinate from aspartate semialdehyde and ketohexose I-phosphate [52] are designated aroA' and aroB'.
cRefers to figures within this manuscript or, if enclosed within parentheses, to the figure in ref. [7].
dSee the consensus gene organization for a Proteobacteria.

majority of genes needed for both PHE and TYR biosyn-
thesis, e.g., the supraoperons in Enterococcus faecalis and
Streptococcus pneumoniae. The latter organism displays two
attenuator units. The supraoperon of Desulfovibrio vulgaris
is novel in that it begins with two relatively rare genes
encoding alternative enzyme steps for aromatic
biosynthesis [52], denoted here as aroA' and aroB'. The
leading five genes are adjacent to the seven-gene trp

Protein divergence within a vertical genealogy is not nec-
essarily smooth and progressive. Qualitative biochemical
innovations can result in a barrage of new selective pres-
sures that result in evolutionary jumps. The consequent
incongruence might easily be mistaken for LGT. The basis
for evolutionary jumps will usually only be recognized by
detailed and comprehensive analyses of any given subsys-
tem. Examples in this study are as follows. (i) The tyrA, A
gene of the lower-gamma Proteobacteria has diverged
markedly from tyrAc of the upper-gamma Proteobacteria.
Here the milestone event was fusion of aroQ to a putative
tyrA, in the ancestor of lower-gamma Proteobacteria to
produce aroQ*tyrA A. Indels within the *tyrA, domain
presumably reflect a multiplicity of selections for func-
tional interactions known to exist between the two fused
domains as discussed earlier. (ii) Members of the subclass
taxon Actinobacteridae possess TyrAa proteins that separate
into two distinct groupings. The presumed ancestral

NAD(p)TyrAa that is still present in the Actinobacteridae_l
clade very likely spawned the divergent NAD+-specific
variety of TyrAa to yield the contemporary
Actinobacteridae_2 clade.

The previous evolutionary analysis of trp-pathway genes
[7,8] can be viewed as a model for comparable studies
with other gene systems. Expansion to the greater
aromatic pathway is a logical extension. The dynamics of
evolutionary change for tyrA can be matched to the
dynamics exhibited by the trp system. For example, the
lower-gamma Proteobacteria separate as a distinct phylo-
genetic unit from beta Proteobacteria and upper-gamma
Proteobacteria on criteria defined by milestone evolution-
ary events that altered many character states of both tryp-
tophan and tyrosine biosynthesis in the lower-gamma
Proteobacteria. In the future one can anticipate that
comprehensive and systematic phylogenetic analysis of
each protein member of the TYR, PHE and TRP branches,
the common aromatic-pathway trunk, and minor vita-
min-like branches (such as the 4-aminobenzoate/folate
branch) will accommodate a progressively integrated
picture of the entire aromatic network, including catabolic
pathways and many other specialized pathways.

TyrA sequences
Most TyrA sequences were obtained from the National
Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [16]. TyrA

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4,(I 1)

BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

sequences from incomplete genomes were retrieved from
the PEDANT database [67]. Several sequences in our
curated TyrA collection have been corrected for incorrect
translation start sites. Various curated TyrA sequence files
can be downloaded from our website. These files include
complete sequences, trimmed catalytic-core domains, and
amino-acid sequence segments that are relevant to specif-
icity for pyridine nucleotide or to specificity for the
cyclohexadienyl substrate. The sequence files are summa-
rized in Table 3.

Congruency groupings
TyrA proteins that cluster together on the TyrA protein tree
in congruence with the 16S rRNA tree are called congru-
ency groups. Exact correspondence of branching orders is
not necessarily observed. So far, congruency groupings
have been assembled for tryptophan-protein concatenates
[8] and for TyrA proteins. Completion of equivalent work
with the remaining aromatic-pathway segments will iden-
tify the repertoire of bacterial organisms in possession of
a "pure" vertical genealogy with respect to aromatic bio-
synthesis. Congruency groups for TyrA can be accessed at
our AroPath website [9], where a listing of the member-
ship of congruency groups is maintained and updated.
Any members of congruency-group clusters, whose posi-
tion there is incongruent with 16S rRNA expectations,
probably (but not necessarily) originated by LGT. The
donor lineage may not be obvious, but as more genomes
come on line, many cases where donor identities are cur-
rently unknown may become revealed. A listing of
"orphan" TyrA proteins that belong to no current congru-
ency group is given. Such orphans reflect the lack of suffi-
cient genome representation in particular phylogenetic
regions and undoubtedly will become the nucleus for
additional congruency groups in due course.

Multiple alignments were obtained by use of the ClustalW
or ClustalX programs (Version 1.83) [68]. Manual adjust-
ments were needed in the region of the GxGxxG motif for
binding of pyridine nucleotide cofactor in the N-terminal
region of TyrA proteins. Guidance for alignment was
assisted by maximizing conformation with the Wierenga
fingerprint, making allowance for a variable loop of 2-5
residues [26]. This was done with the assistance of the
BioEdit multiple alignment tool of Hall (5.0.9 Edition)
[691. The refined multiple alignment was used as input for
generation of a phylogenetic tree using the phylogeny
inference package (Version 3.2), PHYLIP [70]. The neigh-
bor-joining program was used to obtain a distance-based
tree. The distance matrix was obtained by use of Protdist
with a Dayhoff Pam matrix. The Seqboot and Consense
programs were then applied to assess the statistical sup-
port of the tree using bootstrap resampling (1,000 replica-
tions). We also used the ANCESCON package [71], which

produced similar results as shown in Fig. 2 (albeit with
even wider separation of many groups). The presence of
regulatory domains (ACT and REG) was accepted when
indicated by the Domain Architecture Retrieval Tool
(DART) on the BLAST menu at NCBI [16].

Profile HMMs
Profile hidden Markov models for each of the four TyrA
subfamilies, TyrAa, TyrAc, TyrAp and tyrA A, were built
using Sean Eddy's HMMER package [72]. The HMMs were
generated from our file of curated cyclohexadienyl-sub-
strate core segments (see Table 3). The seed sequences for
each subfamily were first aligned using ClustalW [68]. The
resulting multiple sequence alignments were then manu-
ally edited to produce more accurate alignment of the
seed sequences. Finally, the edited multiple sequence
alignments were used to generate the profile HMMs for
each TyrA subfamily.

Appraisal of gene fusions as one-time or multiple events
Whether any given contemporary gene fusions tracked
back to a fusion event in a common ancestor or whether
they occurred independently was evaluated by phyloge-
netic analysis of the individual protein domains and by
inspection of the inter-domain linker region. Linker
regions were determined by multiple alignments of fusion
sequences with corresponding free-standing domains
present in the closest relatives to organisms that lack the
gene fusions.

Authors' contributions
JS and MW integrated this specific effort with the broader
and ongoing objective of implementing a dynamic and
progressively updateable website (AroPath). JS also made
substantial contributions to the bioinformatic work. CB
did all of the artwork and a majority of the bioinformatic
analyses. RJ provided initial guiding concepts, a general
organizational overview, and assembled the initial manu-
script draft. CB, RJ, and JS contributed to the formulation
of conclusions made, and all of the authors read and
approved the final version of the manuscript.

Additional material

Additional File 1
Table Sl, entitled "Key to organism acronyms and sequence identifiers",
is provided as supplementary material in an html document. This table
contains the full collection of sequence data and annotations contained in
this paper, and gene identification (gi) numbers are included and hyper-
linked to facilitate access to the corresponding GenBank records. For
future reference to a progressively updated table, refer to the AroPath web-
site [73].
Click here for file

Page 28 of 30
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BMC Biology 2005, 3:13

R. Jensen thanks the National Library of Medicine (Grant G 13 LM008297)
for partial support. This research is partially supported by the U. S. Army
Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). This analysis would
not have been possible were it not for the yeoman efforts in comparative
enzymology carried out over a period of more than 25 years by many stu-
dents and postdoctoral fellows, most notably Graham S. Byng, Robert
Whitaker, Alan X. Berry and Suhail Ahmad. This has produced an invaluable
resource of comprehensive data, some of it unpublished. This paper is ded-
icated to our colleague and collaborator, John E. Gander, on the occasion
of his 80th birthday.

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