The multidrug transporters - Proteins of an ancient immune system

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22 Citations (Scopus)


The multidrug resistance proteins, discovered as membrane transporters producing chemotherapy-resistance in cancer, are functioning as complex cellular defence systems through recognition and energy-dependent removal of a large variety of toxic agents. The multidrug transporters belong to the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters, present both in prokaryotes and eukaryotes and built from a combination of characteristic membrane-spanning helices and cytoplasmic ATP-binding domains. In mammals the MDR1 (P-glycoprotein) extrudes large hydrophobic compounds and provides the basis of the blood-brain and the blood-testis barrier for such molecules. The multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP) and its homologues have a major role in the cellular export of large organic anions, including e.g. conjugated bile salts and glutathione-conjugates. The substrate recognition, that is the self and non-self discrimination and the ATP-dependent foreign agent extrusion are directly coupled within the structure of these large plasma membrane proteins. Here we suggest that the multidrug transporters are essential parts of our immune-defence system, working as 'cellular antitoxic' mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-219
Number of pages5
JournalImmunology letters
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2 1996


  • MDR1
  • MRP
  • cellular immune defense
  • multidrug transporter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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