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What's in a name?

When it comes to naming newly discovered proteins and pathways, most choose to name them after what they do, what their structure is like, or the family they belong to. Of course, sometimes these are not so clear. And sometimes, the discoverer uses their prerogative to choose something that breaks those norms.

This is an ongoing list of those names that I've come across that have, for one reason or another, made me laugh. Note that the names of each protein or pathway link to articles with more info, if you're interested.

Atlastin - This family of proteins plays several roles in regulating normal cellular functions. They are particularly important for helping proteins that have been made within the cell to be secreted out of the cell, through a process called endocytic trafficking. Now, atlastin might be named after a certain Greek titan famous for holding up the sky, but I can't help but imagine the poor researchers who spent years looking for this protein and were about to give up when, at last, they found it!

Hedgehog Signaling Pathway - The hedgehog gene was originally discovered through genetic screening of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. If you know anything about fly geneticists, you know that their naming conventions have flown (sorry) out the window. Since it's discovery in flies, three hedgehog proteins have been found in mammals, including humans. These are important regulators of embryonic development and have many regulatory functions in adults. They are also of particular interest for their role in cancer development. If you look through the pathway you'll see it's full of many interesting name choices (fly geneticists), but the best three are the pain ligands of the hedgehog pathway - Indian Hedgehog (IHH), Desert Hedgehog (DHH), and of course the infamous Sonic Hedgehog (SHH).

RING Finger protein - This protein forms a family of important mediators of post-translational modification (specifically the addition of ubiquitin to other proteins). RING, which is a structural feature (domain) of the protein shared between member of the family, is where it gets interesting - it's apparent that when it was discovered, researchers new it was important, but were not quite sure how or why. So they named it RING, for Really Interesting New Gene.

Further reading:

Lü, L., Niu, L. & Hu, J. “At last in” the physiological roles of the tubular ER network. Biophys Rep6, 105–114 (2020).

Wu, F., Zhang, Y., Sun, B. et al. Hedgehog Signaling: From Basic Biology to Cancer Therapy. Cell Chemical Biology. 24, 3 (2017).

Cai, C., Tang, YD., Zhai, J. et al. The RING finger protein family in health and disease. Sig Transduct Target Ther., 7, 300 (2022).

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