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Int J Biochem Mol Biol. 2012;3(3):250-72. Epub 2012 Sep 25.

Insights to the evolution of Nucleobase-Ascorbate Transporters (NAT/NCS2 family) from the Cys-scanning analysis of xanthine permease XanQ.

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Laboratory of Biological Chemistry, University of Ioannina Medical School 45110 Ioannina Greece.


The nucleobase-ascorbate transporter or nucleobase-cation symporter-2 (NAT/NCS2) family is one of the five known families of transporters that use nucleobases as their principal substrates and the only one that is evolutionarily conserved and widespread in all major taxa of organisms. The family is a typical paradigm of a group of related transporters for which conservation in sequence and overall structure correlates with high functional variations between homologs. Strikingly, the human homologs fail to recognize nucleobases or related cytotoxic compounds. This fact allows important biomedical perspectives for translation of structure-function knowledge on this family to the rational design of targeted antimicrobial purine-related drugs. To date, very few homologs have been characterized experimentally in detail and only two, the xanthine permease XanQ and the uric acid/xanthine permease UapA, have been studied extensively with site-directed mutagenesis. Recently, the high-resolution structure of a related homolog, the uracil permease UraA, has been solved for the first time with crystallography. In this review, I summarize current knowledge and emphasize how the systematic Cys-scanning mutagenesis of XanQ, in conjunction with existing biochemical and genetic evidence for UapA and the x-ray structure of UraA, allow insight on the structure-function and evolutionary relationships of this important group of transporters. The review is organized in three parts referring to (I) the theory of use of Cys-scanning approaches in the study of membrane transporter families, (II) the state of the art with experimental knowledge and current research on the NAT/NCS2 family, (III) the perspectives derived from the Cys-scanning analysis of XanQ.


Cys-scanning analysis; Nucleobase uptake; binding site; evolution; specificity; xanthine permease

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