Background: Huntingtin-associated Protein 1 (HAP1) is expressed in neurons and endocrine cells, and is critical for postnatal survival in mice. HAP1 shares a conserved "HAP1-N" domain with TRAfficking Kinesin proteins TRAK1 and TRAK2 (vertebrate), Milton (Drosophila) and T27A3.1 (C. elegans). HAP1, TRAK1 and TRAK2 have a degree of common function, particularly regarding intracellular receptor trafficking. However, TRAK1, TRAK2 and Milton (which have a "Milt/TRAK" domain that is absent in human and rodent HAP1) differ in function to HAP1 in that they are mitochondrial transport proteins, while HAP1 has emerging roles in starvation response. We have investigated HAP1 function by examining its evolution, and upstream gene promoter sequences. We performed phylogenetic analyses of the HAP1-N domain family of proteins, incorporating HAP1 orthologues (identified by genomic synteny) from 5 vertebrate classes, and also searched the Dictyostelium proteome for a common ancestor. Computational analyses of mammalian HAP1 gene promoters were performed to identify phylogenetically conserved regulatory motifs. Results: We found that as recently as marsupials, HAP1 contained a Milt/TRAK domain and was more similar to TRAK1 and TRAK2 than to eutherian HAP1. The Milt/TRAK domain likely arose post multicellularity, as it was absent in the Dictyostelium proteome. It was lost from HAP1 in the eutherian lineage, and also from T27A3.1 in C. elegans. The HAP1 promoter from human, mouse, rat, rabbit, horse, dog, Tasmanian devil and opossum contained common sites for transcription factors involved in cell cycle, growth, differentiation, and stress response. A conserved arrangement of regulatory elements was identified, including sites for caudal-related homeobox transcription factors (CDX1 and CDX2), and myc-associated factor X (MAX) in the region of the TATA box. CDX1 and CDX2 are intestine-enriched factors, prompting investigation of HAP1 protein expression in the human duodenum. HAP1 was localized to singly dispersed mucosal cells, including a subset of serotonin-positive enterochromaffin cells. Conclusion: We have identified eutherian HAP1 as an evolutionarily recent adaptation of a vertebrate TRAK protein-like ancestor, and found conserved CDX1/CDX2 and MAX transcription factor binding sites near the TATA box in mammalian HAP1 gene promoters. We also demonstrated that HAP1 is expressed in endocrine cells of the human gut.