tau-Crystallin has been a major component of the cellular lenses of species throughout vertebrate evolution, from lamprey to birds. Immunofluorescence analysis of the embryonic turtle lens, using antiserum to lamprey tau-crystallin showed that the protein is expressed throughout embryogenesis and is present at high concentrations in all parts of the lens. Partial peptide sequence for the isolated turtle protein and deduced sequences for several lamprey peptides all revealed a close similarity to the glycolytic enzyme enolase (E.C. A full-sized cDNA for putative duck tau-crystallin was obtained and sequenced, confirming the close relationship with alpha-enolase. Southern blot analysis showed that the duck genome contains a single alpha-enolase gene, while Northern blot analysis showed that the message for tau-crystallin/alpha-enolase is present in embryonic duck lens at 25 times the abundance found in liver. tau-Crystallin possesses enolase activity, but the activity is greatly reduced, probably because of age-related posttranslational modification. It thus appears that a highly conserved, important glycolytic enzyme has been used as a structural component of lens since the start of vertebrate evolution. Apparently the enzyme has not been recruited for its catalytic activity but for some distinct structural property. tau-Crystallin/alpha-enolase is an example of a multifunctional protein playing two very different roles in evolution but encoded by a single gene.

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