Evolutionary diversification of the Sm family of RNA-associated proteins

Douglas G. Scofield, Michael Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The Sm family of proteins is closely associated with RNA metabolism throughout all life. These proteins form homomorphic and heteromorphic rings consisting of six or seven subunits with a characteristic central pore, the presence of which is critical for binding U-rich regions of single-stranded RNA. Eubacteria and Archaea typically carry one or two forms of Sm proteins and assemble one homomorphic ring per Sm protein. Eukaryotes typically carry 16 or more Sm proteins that assemble to form heteromorphic rings which lie at the center of a number of critical RNA-associated small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs). High Sm protein diversity and heteromorphic Sm rings are features stretching back to the origin of eukaryotes; very deep phylogenetic divisions among existing Sm proteins indicate simultaneous evolution across essentially all existing eukaryotic life. Two basic forms of heteromorphic Sm rings are found in eukaryotes. Fixed Sm rings are highly stable and static and are assembled around an RNA cofactor. Flexible Sm rings also stabilize and chaperone RNA but assemble in the absence of an RNA substrate and, more significantly, associate with and dissociate from RNA substrates more freely than fixed rings. This suggests that the conformation of flexible Sm rings might be modified in some specific manner to facilitate association and dissociation with RNA. Diversification of eukaryotic Sm proteins may have been initiated by gene transfers and/or genome clashes that accompanied the origin of the eukaryotic cell itself, with further diversification driven by a greater need for steric specificity within increasingly complex snRNPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2255-2267
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Multimeric proteins
  • RNA processing
  • Sm protein
  • Spliceosome
  • Trans-splicing
  • snRNP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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