Amino acid transporters (draft)

Amino acid transporters are categorized into at least 17 distinct classes (Bröer, 2008). Neutral amino acids are considered to be mainly transported by 3 systems: A, ASC, and L (Palacín et al., 1998). Systems A and ASC mainly transport amino acids with short, polar, or linear side chains, such as L-alanine and L-serine. Large, branched, and aromatic amino acids, such as L-tyrosine, mainly enter cells via system L (Saier et al., 1988).

System A

System A (alanine-preferring) amino acid transporters are important in regulation of cell growth. These transporters are sodium-dependent active transporters, that is, able to transport amino acids against their concentration gradients. System A transporters are upregulated in several human cancer types, and provide therefore a target for oncological imaging, using radiopharmaceuticals such as [11C]MeAIB (Sutinen et al., 2003; Arimoto et al., 2016).


Alanine-serine-cysteine transporter 2 (ASCT2/SLC1A5) is a sodium-dependent neutral amino acid transporter. Several cancer cell types are dependent on external source of glutamine, and have increased ASCT2 and glutaminase activity. Therefore positron-labelled glutamine analogues are potentially suitable for tumour imaging. [18F]fluciclovine is predominantly transported by ASCT2 and LAT1.

System L

LAT1 and LAT2

L-type amino acid transporters 1 and 2 (LAT1 and LAT2), the isoforms of system L (leucine-preferring), facilitate the diffusion of large (LAT1/SLC7A5) and smaller (LAT2) neutral amino acids across membranes. The tissue uptake of commonly used PET radiopharmaceuticals L-[methyl-11C]methionine, FDOPA, and tyrosine and tryptophan analogues is largely dependent on these transporters.

L-type amino acid transporter 1 (LAT1) is overexpressed in many cancer cells, and is associated with poor prognosis. Non-cancer type isoform LAT2 is ubiquitously expressed in normal tissues. LAT3 and LAT4 prefer phenylalanine over other neutral amino acids.

L-4-borono-2-[18F]fluoro-phenylalanine ([18F]FBPA) prefers LAT1 over LAT2, and therefore tumour imaging using [18F]FBPA does not suffer from the inflammation-induced increase in amino acid uptake, which is the case when using certain other LAT substrates, such as L-[methyl-11C]methionine (Watabe et al., 2017). [18F]fluciclovine is predominantly transported by LAT1 and ASCT2.

Amino acid transporters could also be assessed using immuno-PET (Ikotun et al., 2013).

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

While most amino acids are metabolized in the liver, branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are metabolized mainly in skeletal muscle and white adipose tissue. The first step in the catabolism of BCAAs is catalyzed by mitochondrial branched-chain aminotransferase (BCAT2), which is not expressed in the liver.

xC- transporter

The Cystine/glutamate antiporter (system xC-) is an active transporter for negatively charged amino acids, such as L-glutamate. System xC- can work both ways, depending on the demand.

See also:


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Saier MH Jr, Daniels GA, Boerner P, Lin J. Neutral amino acid transport systems in animal cells: potential targets of oncogene action and regulators of cellular growth. J Membr Biol. 1988; 104: 1–20. doi: 10.1007/BF01871898.

Smith QR, Momma S, Aoyagi M, Rapoport SI. Kinetics of neutral amino acid transport across the blood-brain barrier. J Neurochem. 1987; 49(5): 1651-1658. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.1987.tb01039.x.

Young JD, Jones SEM, Ellory JC, Glynn IM. Amino acid transport in human and in sheep erythrocytes. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1980; 209(1176): 355-375. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1980.0100.

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Updated at: 2019-04-17
Created at: 2017-12-03
Written by: Vesa Oikonen