About a 100 years ago, the Drosophila white mutant marked the birth of Drosophila genetics. The white gene turned out to encode the first well studied ABC transporter in arthropods. The ABC gene family is now recognized as one of the largest transporter families in all kingdoms of life. The majority of ABC proteins function as primary-active transporters that bind and hydrolyze ATP while transporting a large diversity of substrates across lipid membranes. Although extremely well studied in vertebrates for their role in drug resistance, less is known about the role of this family in the transport of endogenous and exogenous substances in arthropods. The ABC families of five insect species, a crustacean and a chelicerate have been annotated in some detail. We conducted a thorough phylogenetic analysis of the seven arthropod and human ABC protein subfamilies, to infer orthologous relationships that might suggest conserved function. Most orthologous relationships were found in the ABCB half transporter, ABCD, ABCE and ABCF subfamilies, but specific expansions within species and lineages are frequently observed and discussed. We next surveyed the role of ABC transporters in the transport of xenobiotics/plant allelochemicals and their involvement in insecticide resistance. The involvement of ABC transporters in xenobiotic resistance in arthropods is historically not well documented, but an increasing number of studies using unbiased differential gene expression analysis now points to their importance. We give an overview of methods that can be used to link ABC transporters to resistance. ABC proteins have also recently been implicated in the mode of action and resistance to Bt toxins in Lepidoptera. Given the enormous interest in Bt toxicology in transgenic crops, such findings will provide an impetus to further reveal the role of ABC transporters in arthropods.
Keywords: Allelochemicals; Arthropoda; BCRP; Bt toxins; Detoxification; MDR; MRP; Multidrug resistance; P-gp; Phase III; Primary carriers; SUR; Traffic ATPases.
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