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Genome Biol. 2001;2(6):REVIEWS3008. Epub 2001 Jun 5.

Importin-beta-like nuclear transport receptors.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3200, USA.


In recent years, our understanding of macromolecular transport processes across the nuclear envelope has grown dramatically, and a large number of soluble transport receptors mediating either nuclear import or nuclear export have been identified. Most of these receptors belong to one large family of proteins, all of which share homology with the protein import receptor importin beta (also named karyopherin beta). Members of this family have been classified as importins or exportins on the basis of the direction they carry their cargo. To date, the family includes 14 members in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and at least 22 members in humans. Importins and exportins are regulated by the small GTPase Ran, which is thought to be highly enriched in the nucleus in its GTP-bound form. Importins recognize their substrates in the cytoplasm and transport them through nuclear pores into the nucleus. In the nucleoplasm, RanGTP binds to importins, inducing the release of import cargoes. In contrast, exportins interact with their substrates only in the nucleus in the presence of RanGTP and release them after GTP hydrolysis in the cytoplasm, causing disassembly of the export complex. Thus, common features of all importin-beta-like transport factors are their ability to shuttle between the nucleus and the cytoplasm, their interaction with RanGTP as well as their ability to recognize specific transport substrates.

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