In this review evidence from a wide variety of biological systems is presented for the genetic, functional, and likely physical association of membrane transporters and the enzymes that metabolize the transported substrates. This evidence supports the hypothesis that the dynamic association of transporters and enzymes creates functional membrane transport metabolons that channel substrates typically obtained from the extracellular compartment directly into their cellular metabolism. The immediate modification of substrates on the inner surface of the membrane prevents back-flux through facilitated transporters, increasing the efficiency of transport. In some cases products of the enzymes are themselves substrates for the transporters that efflux the products in an exchange or antiport mechanism. Regulation of the binding of enzymes to transporters and their mutual activities may play a role in modulating flux through transporters and entry of substrates into metabolic pathways. Examples showing the physical association of transporters and enzymes are provided, but available structural data is sparse. Genetic and functional linkages between membrane transporters and enzymes were revealed by an analysis of Escherichia coli operons encoding polycistronic mRNAs and provide a list of predicted interactions ripe for further structural studies. This article supports the view that membrane transport metabolons are important throughout Nature in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans.
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