Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

New subfamilies of major intrinsic proteins in fungi suggest novel transport properties in fungal channels: implications for the host-fungal interactions

Ravi Kumar Verma1, Neel Duti Prabh1 and Ramasubbu Sankararamakrishnan12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Kanpur 208016, India

2 Center of Excellence for Chemical Biology, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Kanpur 208016, India

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:173  doi:10.1186/s12862-014-0173-4

Published: 12 August 2014



Aquaporins (AQPs) and aquaglyceroporins (AQGPs) belong to the superfamily of Major Intrinsic Proteins (MIPs) and are involved in the transport of water and neutral solutes across the membranes. MIP channels play significant role in plant-fungi symbiotic relationship and are believed to be important in host-pathogen interactions in human fungal diseases. In plants, at least five major MIP subfamilies have been identified. Fungal MIP subfamilies include orthodox aquaporins and five subgroups within aquaglyceroporins. XIP subfamily is common to both plants and fungi. In this study, we have investigated the extent of diversity in fungal MIPs and explored further evolutionary relationships with the plant MIP counterparts.


We have extensively analyzed the available fungal genomes and examined nearly 400 fungal MIPs. Phylogenetic analysis and homology modeling exhibit the existence of a new MIP cluster distinct from any of the known fungal MIP subfamilies. All members of this cluster are found in microsporidia which are unicellular fungal parasites. Members of this family are small in size, charged and have hydrophobic residues in the aromatic/arginine selectivity filter and these features are shared by small and basic intrinsic proteins (SIPs), one of the plant MIP subfamilies. We have also found two new subfamilies (δ and γ2) within the AQGP group. Fungal AQGPs are the most diverse and possess the largest number of subgroups. We have also identified distinguishing features in loops E and D in the newly identified subfamilies indicating their possible role in channel transport and gating.


Fungal SIP-like MIP family is distinct from any of the known fungal MIP families including orthodox aquaporins and aquaglyceroporins. After XIPs, this is the second MIP subfamily from fungi that may have possible evolutionary link with a plant MIP subfamily. AQGPs in fungi are more diverse and possess the largest number of subgroups. The aromatic/arginine selectivity filter of SIP-like fungal MIPs and the δ AQGPs are unique, hydrophobic in nature and are likely to transport novel hydrophobic solutes. They can be attractive targets for developing anti-fungal drugs. The evolutionary pattern shared with their plant counterparts indicates possible involvement of new fungal MIPs in plant-fungi symbiosis and host-pathogen interactions.

Aquaglyceroporin; Aquaporin; Aromatic/arginine selectivity filter; Host-pathogen interactions; Intra-helical salt-bridge; Membrane transport; Plant-fungi symbiosis; Selective transport