Common folds and transport mechanisms of secondary active transporters

Annu Rev Biophys. 2013:42:51-72. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-083012-130429.


Secondary active transporters exploit the electrochemical potential of solutes to shuttle specific substrate molecules across biological membranes, usually against their concentration gradient. Transporters of different functional families with little sequence similarity have repeatedly been found to exhibit similar folds, exemplified by the MFS, LeuT, and NhaA folds. Observations of multiple conformational states of the same transporter, represented by the LeuT superfamily members Mhp1, AdiC, vSGLT, and LeuT, led to proposals that structural changes are associated with substrate binding and transport. Despite recent biochemical and structural advances, our understanding of substrate recognition and energy coupling is rather preliminary. This review focuses on the common folds and shared transport mechanisms of secondary active transporters. Available structural information generally supports the alternating access model for substrate transport, with variations and extensions made by emerging structural, biochemical, and computational evidence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biochemistry / methods
  • Biological Transport
  • Humans
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Folding


  • Membrane Transport Proteins