Herman EK, Ali M, Field MC, Dacks JB.
Endocytosis is a crucial process in eukaryotic cells. The GTPases Rab 5, 21 and 22 that mediate endocytosis are ancient eukaryotic features and all available evidence suggests retained conserved function. In animals and fungi, these GTPases are regulated in part by proteins possessing Vps9 domains. However, the diversity, evolution and functions of Vps9 proteins beyond animals or fungi are poorly explored. Here we report a comprehensive analysis of the Vps9 family of GTPase regulators, combining molecular evolutionary data with functional characterization in the non‐opisthokont model organism Trypanosoma brucei. At least 3 subfamilies, Alsin, Varp and Rabex5 + GAPVD1, are found across eukaryotes, suggesting that all are ancient features of regulation of endocytic Rab protein function. There are examples of lineage‐specific Vps9 subfamily member expansions and novel domain combinations, suggesting diversity in precise regulatory mechanisms between individual lineages. Characterization of the Rabex5 + GAPVD1 and Alsin orthologues in T. brucei demonstrates that both proteins are involved in endocytosis, and that simultaneous knockdown prevents membrane recruitment of Rab5 and Rab21, indicating conservation of function. These data demonstrate that, for the Vps9‐domain family at least, modulation of Rab function is mediated by evolutionarily conserved protein‐protein interactions.