Evolutionary origins of eukaryotic sodium/proton exchangers

Christopher L. Brett, Mark Donowitz, Rajini Rao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

396 Scopus citations


More than 200 genes annotated as Na+/H+ hydrogen exchangers (NHEs) currently reside in bioinformation databases such as GenBank and Pfam. We performed detailed phylogenetic analyses of these NHEs in an effort to better understand their specific functions and physiological roles. This analysis initially required examining the entire monovalent cation proton antiporter (CPA) superfamily that includes the CPA1, CPA2, and NaT-DC families of transporters, each of which has a unique set of bacterial ancestors. We have concluded that there are nine human NHE (or SLC9A) paralogs as well as two previously unknown human CPA2 genes, which we have named HsNHA1 and HsNHA2. The eukaryotic NHE family is composed of five phylogenetically distinct clades that differ in subcellular location, drug sensitivity, cation selectivity, and sequence length. The major subgroups are plasma membrane (recycling and resident) and intracellular (endosomal/TGN, NHE8-like, and plant vacuolar). HsNHE1, the first cloned eukaryotic NHE gene, belongs to the resident plasma membrane clade. The latter is the most recent to emerge, being found exclusively in vertebrates. In contrast, the intracellular clades are ubiquitously distributed and are likely precursors to the plasma membrane NHE. Yeast endosomal ScNHX1 was the first intracellular NHE to be described and is closely related to HsNHE6, HsNHE7, and HsNHE9 in humans. Our results link the appearance of NHE on the plasma membrane of animal cells to the use of the Na +/K+-ATPase to generate the membrane potential. These novel observations have allowed us to use comparative biology to predict physiological roles for the nine human NHE paralogs and to propose appropriate model organisms in which to study the unique properties of each NHE subclass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C223-C239
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number2 57-2
StatePublished - Feb 2005


  • Cation proton antiporter
  • NHX
  • Na/H exchanger
  • Phylogenetic analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology


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