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We report here on the isolation and characterization of a serotonin (5HT) transporter from Drosophila melanogaster. A 3.1-kb complementary DNA clone (dSERT) was found to encode a protein of 622 amino acid residues with a predicted molecular mass of approximately 69 kDa and a putative transmembrane topology characteristic of cloned members of the mammalian Na+/Cl- neurotransmitter cotransporter gene family. dSERT displays highest overall amino acid sequence identity with the mammalian 5HT (51%), norepinephrine (47%), and dopamine (47%) transporters and shares with all transporters 104 absolutely conserved amino acid residues. Upon transient expression in HeLa cells, dSERT exhibited saturable, high-affinity, and sodium-dependent [3H]5HT uptake with estimated Km and Vmax values of approximately 500 nM and 5.2 x 10(-18) mol per cell per min, respectively. In marked contrast to the human SERT (hSERT), 5HT-mediated transport by dSERT was not absolutely dependent on extracellular Cl-, while the sodium-dependent uptake of 5HT was facilitated by increased extracellular Cl- concentrations. dSERT displays a pharmacological profile and rank order of potency consistent with, but not identical to, mammalian 5HT transporters. Comparison of the affinities of various compounds for the inhibition of 5HT transport by both dSERT and hSERT revealed that antidepressants were 3- to 300-fold less potent on dSERT than on hSERT, while mazindol displayed approximately 30-fold greater potency for dSERT. Both cocaine and RTI-55 inhibited 5HT uptake by dSERT with estimated inhibition constants of approximately 500 nM, while high concentrations (> 10 microM) of dopamine, norepinephrine, octopamine, tyramine, and histamine failed to inhibit transport. In situ hybridization reveals the selective expression of dSERT mRNA to specific cell bodies in the ventral ganglion of the embryonic and larval Drosophila nervous system with a distribution pattern virtually identical to that of 5HT-containing neurons. The dSERT gene was mapped to position 60C on chromosome 2. The availability of the gene encoding the unique ion dependence and pharmacological characteristics of dSERT may allow for identification of those amino acid residues and structural motifs that confer the pharmacologic specificity and genetic regulation of the 5HT transport process.