Soluble sugars serve five main purposes in multicellular organisms: as sources of carbon skeletons, osmolytes, signals, and transient energy storage and as transport molecules. Most sugars are derived from photosynthetic organisms, particularly plants. In multicellular organisms, some cells specialize in providing sugars to other cells (e.g., intestinal and liver cells in animals, photosynthetic cells in plants), whereas others depend completely on an external supply (e.g., brain cells, roots and seeds). This cellular exchange of sugars requires transport proteins to mediate uptake or release from cells or subcellular compartments. Thus, not surprisingly, sugar transport is critical for plants, animals, and humans. At present, three classes of eukaryotic sugar transporters have been characterized, namely the glucose transporters (GLUTs), sodium-glucose symporters (SGLTs), and SWEETs. This review presents the history and state of the art of sugar transporter research, covering genetics, biochemistry, and physiology-from their identification and characterization to their structure, function, and physiology. In humans, understanding sugar transport has therapeutic importance (e.g., addressing diabetes or limiting access of cancer cells to sugars), and in plants, these transporters are critical for crop yield and pathogen susceptibility.
Keywords: GLUT; SGLT; SWEET; carrier; glucose; sucrose.