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Animal Ca2+ release-activated Ca2+ (CRAC) channels appear to be homologous to and derived from the ubiquitous cation diffusion facilitators

Madeleine G Matias, Kenny M Gomolplitinant, Dorjee G Tamang and Milton H Saier*

Author Affiliations

Division of Biological Sciences, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0116, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:158  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-158

Published: 3 June 2010



Antigen stimulation of immune cells triggers Ca2+ entry through Ca2+ release-activated Ca2+ (CRAC) channels, promoting an immune response to pathogens. Defects in a CRAC (Orai) channel in humans gives rise to the hereditary Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID) syndrome. We here report results that define the evolutionary relationship of the CRAC channel proteins of animals, and the ubiquitous Cation Diffusion Facilitator (CDF) carrier proteins.


CDF antiporters derived from a primordial 2 transmembrane spanner (TMS) hairpin structure by intragenic triplication to yield 6 TMS proteins. Four programs (IC/GAP, GGSEARCH, HMMER and SAM) were evaluated for identifying sequence similarity and establishing homology using statistical means. Overall, the order of sensitivity (similarity detection) was IC/GAP = GGSEARCH > HMMER > SAM, but the use of all four programs was superior to the use of any two or three of them. Members of the CDF family appeared to be homologous to members of the 4 TMS Orai channel proteins.


CRAC channels derived from CDF carriers by loss of the first two TMSs of the latter. Based on statistical analyses with multiple programs, TMSs 3-6 in CDF carriers are homologous to TMSs 1-4 in CRAC channels, and the former was the precursor of the latter. This is an unusual example of how a functionally and structurally more complex protein may have predated a simpler one.