Mammalian heteromeric amino acid transporters (HATs) are composed of a multi-transmembrane spanning catalytic protein covalently associated with a type II glycoprotein (e.g. 4F2hc, rBAT) through a disulfide bond. Caenorhabditis elegans has nine genes encoding close homologues of the HAT catalytic proteins. Three of these genes (designated AAT-1 to AAT-3) have a much higher degree of similarity to the mammalian homologues than the other six, including the presence of a cysteine residue at the position known to form a disulfide bridge to the glycoprotein partner in mammalian HATs. C. elegans also has two genes encoding homologues of the heteromeric amino acid transporter type II glycoprotein subunits (designated ATG-1 and ATG-2). Both ATG, and/or AAT-1, -2, -3 proteins were expressed in Xenopus oocytes and tested for amino acid transport function. This screen revealed that AAT-1 and AAT-3 facilitate amino acid transport when expressed together with ATG-2 but not with ATG-1 or the mammalian type II glycoproteins 4F2hc and rBAT. AAT-1 and AAT-3 covalently bind to both C. elegans ATG glycoproteins, but only the pairs with ATG-2 traffic to the oocyte surface. Both of these functional, surface-expressed C. elegans HATs transport most neutral amino acids and display the highest transport rate for l-Ala and l-Ser (apparent K(m) 100 microm range). Similar to their mammalian counterparts, the C. elegans HATs function as (near) obligatory amino acid exchangers. Taken together, this study demonstrates that the heteromeric structure and the amino acid exchange function of HATs have been conserved throughout the evolution of nematodes to mammals.
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