Background: The SLC17 family of transporters transports the amino acids: glutamate and aspartate, and, as shown recently, also nucleotides. Vesicular glutamate transporters are found in distinct species, such as C. elegans, but the evolutionary origin of most of the genes in this family has been obscure.Results: Our phylogenetic analysis shows that the SLC17 family consists of four main phylogenetic clades which were all present before the divergence of the insect lineage. One of these clades has not been previously described and it is not found in vertebrates. The clade containing Slc17a9 had the most restricted evolutionary history with only one member in most species. We detected expression of Slc17a1-17a4 only in the peripheral tissues but not in the CNS, while Slc17a5- Slc17a9 are highly expressed in both the CNS and periphery.Conclusions: The in situ hybridization studies on vesicular nucleotide transporter revealed high expression throughout the cerebral cortex, certain areas in the hippocampus and in specific nuclei of the hypothalamus and thalamus. Some of the regions with high expression, such as the medial habenula and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, are important sites for purinergic neurotransmission. Noteworthy, other areas relying on purine-mediated signaling, such as the molecular layer of the dentate gyrus and the periaqueductal gray, lack or have a very low expression of Slc17a9, suggesting that there could be another nucleotide transporter in these regions.
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