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Biosystems. 2001 Sep-Oct;62(1-3):57-66.

Single-file diffusion and neurotransmitter transporters: Hodgkin and Keynes model revisited.

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Department of Pharmacology, Center for Molecular Neuroscience, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37232-6600, USA.


Norepinephrine transporters (NETs) use the Na gradient to remove norepinephrine (NE) from the synaptic cleft of adrenergic neurons following NE release from the presynaptic terminal. By coupling NE to the inwardly directed Na gradient, it is possible to concentrate NE inside cells. This mechanism, which is referred to as co-transport or secondary transport (Läuger, 1991, Electrogenic Ion Pumps, Sinauer Associates) is apparently universal: Na coupled transport applies to serotonin transporters (SERTs), dopamine transporters (DATs), glutamate transporters, and many others, including transporters for osmolites, metabolites and substrates such as sugar. Recently we have shown that NETs and SERTs transport norepinephrine or serotonin as if Na and the transmitter permeated through an ion channel together 'Galli et al., 1998, PNAS 95, 13260-13265; Petersen and DeFelice, 1999, Nature Neurosci. 2, 605-610'. These data are paradoxical because it has been difficult to envisage how NE, for example, would couple to Na if these ions move passively through an open pore. An 'alternating access' model is usually evoked to explain coupling: in such models NE and Na bind to NET, which then undergoes a conformational change to release NE and Na on the inside. The empty transporter then turns outward to complete the cycle. Alternating-access models never afford access to an open channel. Rather, substrates and co-transported ions are occluded in the transporter and carried across the membrane. The coupling mechanism we propose is fundamentally different than the coupling mechanism evoked in the alternating access model. To explain coupling in co-transporters, we use a mechanism first evoked by 'Hodgkin and Keynes (1955) J. Physiol. 128, 61-88' to explain ion interactions in K-selective channels. In the Hodgkin and Keynes model, K ions move single-file through a long narrow pore. Their model accounted for the inward/outward flux ratio if they assumed that two K ions queue within the pore. We evoke a similar model for the co-transport of transmitter and Na. In our case, however, coupling occurs not only between like ions but also between unlike ions (i.e. the transmitter and Na ). We made a replica of the Hodgkin and Keynes mechanical model to test our ideas, and we extended the model with computer simulations using Monte Carlo methods. We also developed an analytic formula for Na coupled co-transport that is analogous to the single-file Ussing equation for channels. The model shows that stochastic diffusion through a long narrow pore can explain coupled transport. The length of the pore amplifies the Na gradient that drives co-transport.

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