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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 May;1794(5):725-37. doi: 10.1016/j.bbapap.2008.12.004. Epub 2008 Dec 24.

Molecular basis of multidrug transport by ABC transporters.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1PD, United Kingdom.


Multidrug ABC transporters such as the human multidrug resistance P-glycoprotein (ABCB1) play an important role in the extrusion of drugs from the cell and their overexpression can be a cause of failure of anticancer and antimicrobial chemotherapy. These transport systems contain two nucleotide-binding domains (NBDs) where ATP is bound and hydrolyzed and two membrane domains (MDs) which mediate vectorial transport of substrates across the cell membrane. Recent crystal structures of the bacterial ABCB1 homologues Sav1866 from Staphylococcus aureus and MsbA from Salmonella typhimurium and other organisms shed light on the possible conformational states adopted by multidrug ABC transporters during transport. These structures help to interpret cellular and biochemical data gathered on these transport proteins over the past three decades. However, there are contradictory views on how the catalytic cycle of ATP binding and hydrolysis by the NBDs is linked to the change in drug binding affinity at the MDs, which underlies the capture (high affinity) of the transported drug on one side of the membrane and its release (low affinity) on the other. This review provides an overview of the current evidence for the different transport models and establishes the most recent structure-function relationships in multidrug ABC transporters.

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