Vitellogenin (VTG) and apolipoprotein (APO) play a central role in animal reproduction and lipid circulation, respectively. Although previous studies have examined the structural and functional relationships of these large lipid transfer proteins (LLTPs) from an evolutionary perspective, the mechanism in generating these different families have not been addressed in invertebrates. In this study, the most comprehensive phylogenetic and genomic analysis of the LLTP superfamily genes is carried out. We propose the expansion and diversification of LLTPs in invertebrates are mediated via retrotransposon-mediated duplications, followed by either subfunctionalization or neofunctionalization in different lineages. In agreement with a previous hypothesis, our analysis suggests that all LLTPs originate from a series of duplications of a primitive yolk protein gene similar to VTG. Two early consecutive duplications of the yolk protein genes resulted in the formation of microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP) and the APO gene ancestor. Gains and losses of domains and genes occurred in each of these families in different animal lineages, with MTP becoming truncated. MTP maintained only the components stabilizing the huge lipoprotein particle. Surprisingly, for the first time, two VTG-like protein families were found to independently arise in the lineages of insects. This work consolidates the reconstruction of the evolutionary roadmap of the LLTP superfamily and provides the first mechanistic explanation on the expansion of family members via retrotransposition in invertebrates.
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Vol. 88 • No. 4