The human concentrative nucleoside transporter, CNT3 (SLC28A3), plays an important role in mediating the cellular entry of a broad array of physiological nucleosides and synthetic anticancer nucleoside analog drugs. As a first step toward understanding the genetic basis for interindividual differences in the disposition and response to antileukemic nucleoside analogs, we examined the genetic and functional diversity of CNT3. In all, 56 variable sites in the exons and flanking intronic region of SLC28A3 were identified in a collection of 270 DNA samples from US populations (80 African-Americans, 80 European-Americans, 60 Asian-Americans, and 50 Mexican-Americans). Of the 16 coding region variants, 12 had not been previously reported. Also, 10 resulted in amino-acid changes and three of these had total allele frequencies of >/=1%. Nucleotide diversity (pi) at nonsynonymous and synonymous sites was estimated to be 1.81 x 10(4) and 18.13 x 10(4), respectively, suggesting that SLC28A3 is under negative selection. All nonsynonymous variants, constructed by site-directed mutagenesis and expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes, transported purine and pyrimidine model substrates, except for c. 1099G>A (p. Gly367Arg). This rare variant alters an evolutionarily conserved site in the putative substrate recognition domain of CNT3. The presence of three additional evolutionarily conserved glycine residues in the vicinity of p. Gly367Arg that are also conserved in human paralogs suggest that these glycine residues are critical in the function of the concentrative nucleoside transporter family. The genetic analysis and functional characterization of CNT3 variants suggest that this transporter does not tolerate nonsynonymous changes and is important for human fitness.