The structure of V- and F-ATPases/ATP synthases is remarkably conserved throughout evolution. Sequence analyses show that the V- and F-ATPases evolved from the same enzyme that was already present in the last common ancestor of all known extant life forms. The catalytic and non-catalytic subunits found in the dissociable head groups of both V-ATPases and F-ATPases are paralogous subunits, i.e. these two types of subunits evolved from a common ancestral gene. The gene duplication giving rise to these two genes (i.e. those encoding the catalytic and non-catalytic subunits) pre-dates the time of the last common ancestor. Similarities between the V- and F-ATPase subunits and an ATPase-like protein that is implicated in flagellar assembly are evaluated with regard to the early evolution of ATPases. Mapping of gene duplication events that occurred in the evolution of the proteolipid, the non-catalytic and the catalytic subunits onto the tree of life leads to a prediction of the likely quaternary structure of the encoded ATPases. The phylogenetic implications of V-ATPases found in eubacteria are discussed. Different V-ATPase isoforms have been detected in some higher eukaryotes, whereas others were shown to have only a single gene encoding the catalytic V-ATPase subunit. These data are analyzed with respect to the possible function of the different isoforms (tissue-specific, organelle-specific). The point in evolution at which the different isoforms arose is mapped by phylogenetic analysis.

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