The ion transporter superfamily

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2003 Dec 3;1618(1):79-92. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2003.10.010.


We define a novel superfamily of secondary carriers specific for cationic and anionic compounds, which we have termed the ion transporter (IT) superfamily. Twelve recognized and functionally defined families constitute this superfamily. We provide statistical sequence analyses demonstrating that these families were in fact derived from a common ancestor. Further, we characterize the 12 families in terms of (1) the known substrates transported, (2) the modes of transport and energy coupling mechanisms used, (3) the family sizes (in numbers of sequenced protein members in the current NCBI database), (4) the organismal distributions of the members of each family, (5) the size ranges of the constituent proteins, (6) the predicted topologies of these proteins, and (7) the occurrence of non-homologous auxiliary proteins that may either facilitate or be required for transport. No member of the superfamily is known to function in a capacity other than transport. Proteins in several of the constituent families are shown to have arisen by tandem intragenic duplication events, but topological variation has resulted from a variety of dissimilar genetic fusion, splicing and insertional events. The evolutionary relationships between the members of each family are defined, leading to predictions of functionally relevant orthologous relationships. Some but not all of the families include functionally dissimilar paralogues that arose by early extragenic duplication events.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Computational Biology
  • Gene Duplication
  • Ion Pumps / genetics*
  • Multigene Family*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, Protein


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Ion Pumps