BACKGROUND: The Nme family, previously known as Nm23 or NDPK, is involved in various molecular processes including tumor metastasis and some members of the family, but not all, exhibit a Nucleoside Diphosphate Kinase (NDPK) activity. Ten genes are known in humans, in which some members have been extensively studied. In non-mammalian species, the Nme protein family has received, in contrast, far less attention. The picture of the vertebrate Nme family remains thus incomplete and orthology relationships with mammalian counterparts were only partially characterized. The present study therefore aimed at characterizing the Nme gene repertoire in vertebrates with special interest for teleosts, and providing a comprehensive overview of the Nme gene family evolutionary history in vertebrates. RESULTS: In the present study, we present the evolutionary history of the Nme family in vertebrates and characterize the gene family repertoire for the first time in several non-mammalian species. Our observations show that vertebrate Nme genes can be separated in two evolutionary distinct groups. Nme1, Nme2, Nme3, and Nme4 belong to Group I while vertebrate Nme5, Nme6, Nme7, Nme8, and Nme9 belong to Group II. The position of Nme10 is in contrast more debatable due to its very specific evolutionary history. The present study clearly indicates that Nme5, Nme6, Nme7, and Nme8 originate from duplication events that occurred before the chordate radiation. In contrast, Nme genes of the Group I have a very different evolutionary history as our results suggest that they all arise from a common gene present in the chordate ancestor. In addition, expression patterns of all zebrafish nme transcripts were studied in a broad range of tissues by quantitative PCR and discussed in the light of the function of their mammalian counterparts. CONCLUSIONS: This work offers an evolutionary framework that will pave the way for future studies on vertebrate Nme proteins and provides a unified vertebrate Nme nomenclature that is consistent with the nomenclature in use in mammals. Based on protein structure and expression data, we also provide new insight into molecular functions of Nme proteins among vertebrates and raise intriguing questions on the roles of Nme proteins in gonads.