The emergence of high throughput genome sequencing facilities and powerful high performance bioinformatic tools has highlighted hitherto unexpected wide occurrence of globins in the three kingdoms of life. In silico analysis of the genome of C. elegans identified 33 putative globin genes. It remains a mystery why this tiny animal might need so many globins. As an inroad to understanding this complexity we initiated a structural and functional analysis of the globin family in C. elegans.
All 33 C. elegans putative globin genes are transcribed. The translated sequences have the essential signatures of single domain bona fide globins, or they contain a distinct globin domain that is part of a larger protein. All globin domains can be aligned so as to fit the globin fold, but internal interhelical and N- and C-terminal extensions and a variety of amino acid substitutions generate much structural diversity among the globins of C. elegans. Likewise, the encoding genes lack a conserved pattern of intron insertion positioning. We analyze the expression profiles of the globins during the progression of the life cycle, and we find that distinct subsets of globins are induced, or repressed, in wild-type dauers and in daf-2(e1370)/insulin-receptor mutant adults, although these animals share several physiological features including resistance to elevated temperature, oxidative stress and hypoxic death. Several globin genes are upregulated following oxygen deprivation and we find that HIF-1 and DAF-2 each are required for this response. Our data indicate that the DAF-2 regulated transcription factor DAF-16/FOXO positively modulates hif-1 transcription under anoxia but opposes expression of the HIF-1 responsive globin genes itself. In contrast, the canonical globin of C. elegans, ZK637.13, is not responsive to anoxia. Reduced DAF-2 signaling leads to enhanced transcription of this globin and DAF-16 is required for this effect.
We found that all 33 putative globins are expressed, albeit at low or very low levels, perhaps indicating cell-specific expression. They show wide diversity in gene structure and amino acid sequence, suggesting a long evolutionary history. Ten globins are responsive to oxygen deprivation in an interacting HIF-1 and DAF-16 dependent manner. Globin ZK637.13 is not responsive to oxygen deprivation and regulated by the Ins/IGF pathway only suggesting that this globin may contribute to the life maintenance program.
Hoogewijs et al. BMC Genomics 2007, 8:356