Open Access Open Badges Research article

Functional specialization in nucleotide sugar transporters occurred through differentiation of the gene cluster EamA (DUF6) before the radiation of Viridiplantae

Åke Västermark1*, Markus Sällman Almén1, Martin W Simmen2, Robert Fredriksson1 and Helgi B Schiöth1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neuroscience, Functional Pharmacology, Uppsala University, BMC, Box 593, 751 24, Uppsala, Sweden

2 School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Hugh Robson Building, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9XD, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:123  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-123

Published: 12 May 2011



The drug/metabolite transporter superfamily comprises a diversity of protein domain families with multiple functions including transport of nucleotide sugars. Drug/metabolite transporter domains are contained in both solute carrier families 30, 35 and 39 proteins as well as in acyl-malonyl condensing enzyme proteins. In this paper, we present an evolutionary analysis of nucleotide sugar transporters in relation to the entire superfamily of drug/metabolite transporters that considers crucial intra-protein duplication events that have shaped the transporters. We use a method that combines the strengths of hidden Markov models and maximum likelihood to find relationships between drug/metabolite transporter families, and branches within families.


We present evidence that the triose-phosphate transporters, domain unknown function 914, uracil-diphosphate glucose-N-acetylglucosamine, and nucleotide sugar transporter families have evolved from a domain duplication event before the radiation of Viridiplantae in the EamA family (previously called domain unknown function 6). We identify previously unknown branches in the solute carrier 30, 35 and 39 protein families that emerged simultaneously as key physiological developments after the radiation of Viridiplantae, including the "35C/E" branch of EamA, which formed in the lineage of T. adhaerens (Animalia). We identify a second cluster of DMTs, called the domain unknown function 1632 cluster, which has non-cytosolic N- and C-termini, and thus appears to have been formed from a different domain duplication event. We identify a previously uncharacterized motif, G-X(6)-G, which is overrepresented in the fifth transmembrane helix of C-terminal domains. We present evidence that the family called fatty acid elongases are homologous to transporters, not enzymes as had previously been thought.


The nucleotide sugar transporters families were formed through differentiation of the gene cluster EamA (domain unknown function 6) before Viridiplantae, showing for the first time the significance of EamA.

SLC30; SLC35; SLC39; drug/metabolite transporters; nucleotide sugar transporters; EamA; EmrE; multi drug resistance protein; dual-topology proteins; transmembrane helix