During the past few decades, it's become clear that many enzymes evolved not only to act as specific, finely tuned and carefully regulated catalysts, but also to perform a second, completely different function in the cell. In general, these moonlighting proteins have a single polypeptide chain that performs two or more distinct and physiologically relevant biochemical or biophysical functions. This mini-review describes examples of moonlighting proteins that have been found within the past few years, including some that play key roles in human and animal diseases and in the regulation of biochemical pathways in food crops. Several belong to two of the most common subclasses of moonlighting proteins: trigger enzymes and intracellular/surface moonlighting proteins, but a few represent less often observed combinations of functions. These examples also help illustrate some of the current methods used for identifying proteins with multiple functions. In general, a greater understanding about the functions and molecular mechanisms of moonlighting proteins, their roles in the regulation of cellular processes, and their involvement in health and disease could aid in many areas including developing new antibiotics, predicting the functions of the millions of proteins being identified through genome sequencing projects, designing novel proteins, using biological circuitry analysis to construct bacterial strains that are better producers of materials for industrial use, and developing methods to tweak biochemical pathways for increasing yields of food crops.
Pseudoenzymes are noncatalytic homologues of enzymes and are found in most enzyme families. Although lacking catalytic activity and sometimes referred to as ‘dead' enzymes, they instead resemble phoenixes because the loss of a catalytic function during evolution was associated with the development of vital new functions. They are important in regulating the activity and location of catalytically active homologues, scaffolding the assembly of signaling complexes, and regulating transcription or translation. They are key actors in cell proliferation and differentiation, proteostasis, and many other biochemical pathways and processes. They perform their functions in diverse ways, but many retain some aspects of the function of their catalytically active homologues. In some pseudoenzymes, their functions are very different from other members of their protein families, suggesting some arose from ancient moonlighting proteins during evolution. Much less is known about pseudoenzymes than their catalytically active counterparts, but a growing appreciation of their key roles in many important biochemical processes and signaling pathways has led to increased investigation in recent years. It is clear that there is still much more to learn about the structures, functions, and cellular roles of these phoenix-like proteins.
Moonlighting proteins comprise a class of multifunctional proteins in which a single polypeptide chain performs multiple physiologically relevant biochemical or biophysical functions. Almost 300 proteins have been found to moonlight. The known examples of moonlighting proteins include diverse types of proteins, including receptors, enzymes, transcription factors, adhesins and scaffolds, and different combinations of functions are observed. Moonlighting proteins are expressed throughout the evolutionary tree and function in many different biochemical pathways. Some moonlighting proteins can perform both functions simultaneously, but for others, the protein's function changes in response to changes in the environment. The diverse examples of moonlighting proteins already identified, and the potential benefits moonlighting proteins might provide to the organism, such as through coordinating cellular activities, suggest that many more moonlighting proteins are likely to be found. Continuing studies of the structures and functions of moonlighting proteins will aid in predicting the functions of proteins identified through genome sequencing projects, in interpreting results from proteomics experiments, in understanding how different biochemical pathways interact in systems biology, in annotating protein sequence and structure databases, in studies of protein evolution and in the design of proteins with novel functions.