BACKGROUNDThe Arabidopsis thaliana MHX gene (AtMHX) encodes a Mg²⁺/H⁺ exchanger. Among non-plant proteins, AtMHX showed the highest similarity to mammalian Na⁺/Ca²⁺ exchanger (NCX) transporters, which are part of the Ca²⁺/cation (CaCA) exchanger superfamily.
RESULTSSequences showing similarity to AtMHX were searched in the databases or sequenced from cDNA clones. Phylogenetic analysis showed that the MHX family is limited to plants, and constitutes a sixth family within the CaCA superfamily. Some plants include, besides a full MHX gene, partial MHX-related sequences. More than one full MHX gene was currently identified only in Oryza sativa and Mimulus guttatus, but an EST for more than one MHX was identified only in M. guttatus. MHX genes are not present in the currently available chlorophyte genomes. The prevalence of upstream ORFs in MHX genes is much higher than in most plant genes, and can limit their expression. A structural model of the MHXs, based on the resolved structure of NCX1, implies that the MHXs include nine transmembrane segments. The MHXs and NCXs share 32 conserved residues, including a GXG motif implicated in the formation of a tight-turn in a reentrant-loop. Three residues differ between all MHX and NCX proteins. Altered mobility under reducing and non-reducing conditions suggests the presence of an intramolecular disulfide-bond in AtMHX.
CONCLUSIONSThe absence of MHX genes in non-plant genomes and in the currently available chlorophyte genomes, and the presence of an NCX in Chlamydomonas, are consistent with the suggestion that the MHXs evolved from the NCXs after the split of the chlorophyte and streptophyte lineages of the plant kingdom. The MHXs underwent functional diploidization in most plant species. De novo duplication of MHX occurred in O. sativa before the split between the Indica and Japonica subspecies, and was apparently followed by translocation of one MHX paralog from chromosome 2 to chromosome 11 in Japonica. The structural analysis presented and the identification of elements that differ between the MHXs and the NCXs, or between the MHXs of specific plant groups, can contribute to clarification of the structural basis of the function and ion selectivity of MHX transporters.