The transporter classification (TC) system, 2002

Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2002;37(5):287-337. doi: 10.1080/10409230290771528.


The Transporter Classification (TC) system is a functional/phylogenetic system designed for the classification of all transmembrane transport proteins found in living organisms on Earth. It parallels but differs from the strictly functional EC system developed decades ago by the Enzyme Commission of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) for the classification of enzymes. Recently, the TC system has been adopted by the IUBMB as the internationally acclaimed system for the classification of transporters. Here we present the characteristics of the nearly 400 families of transport systems included in the TC system and provide statistical analyses of these families and their constituent proteins. Specifically, we analyze the transporter types for size and topological differences and analyze the families for the numbers and organismal sources of their constituent members. We show that channels and carriers exhibit distinctive structural and topological features. Bacterial-specific families outnumber eukaryotic-specific families about 2 to 1, while ubiquitous families, found in all three domains of life, are about half as numerous as eukaryotic-specific families. The results argue against appreciable horizontal transfer of genes encoding transporters between the three domains of life over the last 2 billion years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / classification
  • Biological Transport
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Protein Transport*
  • Proteins / classification*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Proteins