Because all small G proteins (SGPs) possess a very similar array of structural and functional domains, they are obvious candidates for examining the relationships postulated to exist between the exon-intron structure of genes and the domain structure of the encoded proteins. To address this issue, and to possibly gain insight into the evolution of their introns, we have analyzed positions, sizes, and sequences of 125 introns from 28 SGP genes. These introns were found to be distributed in 60 different locations throughout the aligned sequences, with a preference for the 5′-half of the genes. More than 50% of the positions were found to be shared by two or more genes, and genes encoding SGPs of very similar amino acid sequence (i.e., isotypes) in quite closely related species tend to have most, or all, of their introns in identical locations, indicating a common evolutionary origin (homologous introns). However, with few exceptions, no statistically significant sequence similarity or common folding motif was found between homologous intron pairs. Only three intron positions are shared between members of distantly related SGP subfamilies. These three potentially ancient intron locations fall between regions encoding α-helices or β-sheets, but two of them interrupt regions encoding known functional (guanosine-nucleotide-binding) modules. Intron positions that are occupied only in single genes, or in genes encoding very similar SGPs, do not show any preferential distribution with respect to regions encoding structural or functional motifs. This discordance between exon modules and structural and/or functional protein domains suggests that most, if not all, introns in modern SGP genes arose by independent insertion events after diversification of the various SGP subfamilies, and therefore probably did not participate in the early evolution of these genes.
Intron evolution Introns-early Introns-late Exon shuffling Ras family Green algae