- Sodium-calcium exchangers have long been considered inert with respect to monovalent cations such as lithium, choline, and N-methyl-d-glucamine. A key question that has remained unsolved is how despite this, Li(+) catalyzes calcium exchange in mammalian tissues. Here we report that a Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchanger, NCLX cloned from human cells (known as FLJ22233), is distinct from both known forms of the exchanger, NCX and NCKX in structure and kinetics. Surprisingly, NCLX catalyzes active Li(+)/Ca(2+) exchange, thereby explaining the exchange of these ions in mammalian tissues. The NCLX protein, detected as both 70- and 55-KDa polypeptides, is highly expressed in rat pancreas, skeletal muscle, and stomach. We demonstrate, moreover, that NCLX is a K(+)-independent exchanger that catalyzes Ca(2+) flux at a rate comparable with NCX1 but without promoting Na(+)/Ba(2+) exchange. The activity of NCLX is strongly inhibited by zinc, although it does not transport this cation. NCLX activity is only partially inhibited by the NCX inhibitor, KB-R7943. Our results provide a cogent explanation for a fundamental question. How can Li(+) promote Ca(2+) exchange whereas the known exchangers are inert to Li(+) ions? Identification of this novel member of the Na(+)/Ca(2+) superfamily, with distinct characteristics, including the ability to transport Li(+), may provide an explanation for this phenomenon.