Cytochrome b561 (cytb561) proteins comprise a family of transmembrane oxidoreductases that transfer single electrons across a membrane. Most eukaryotic species, including insects, possess multiple cytb561 homologs. To learn more about this protein family in insects, we carried out a bioinformatics-based investigation of cytb561 family members from nine species representing eight insect orders. We performed a phylogenetic analysis to classify insect cytb561 ortholog groups. We then conducted sequence analyses and analyzed protein models to predict structural elements that may impact the biological functions and localization of these proteins, with a focus on possible ferric reductase activity. Our study revealed three ortholog groups, designated CG1275, Nemy, and CG8399, and a fourth group of less-conserved genes. We found that CG1275 and Nemy proteins are similar to a human ferric reductase, duodenal cytochrome b561 (Dcytb), and have many conserved amino acid residues that function in substrate binding in Dcytb. Notably, CG1275 and Nemy proteins contain a conserved histidine and other residues that play a role in ferric ion reduction by Dcytb. Nemy proteins were distinguished by a novel cysteine-rich cytoplasmic loop sequence. CG8399 orthologs are similar to a putative ferric reductase in humans, stromal cell-derived receptor 2. Like other members of the CYBDOM class of cytb561 proteins, these proteins contain reeler, DOMON, and cytb561 domains. Drosophila melanogaster CG8399 is the only insect cytb561 with known ferric reductase activity. Our investigation of the DOMON domain in CG8399 proteins revealed a probable heme-binding site and a possible site for ferric reduction. The fourth group includes a subgroup of proteins with a conserved "KXXXXKXH" non-cytoplasmic loop motif that may be a substrate binding site and is present in a potential ferric reductase, human tumor suppressor cytochrome b561. This study provides a foundation for future investigations of the biological functions of cytb561 genes in insects.

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