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Physiology (Bethesda). 2006 Oct;21:317-25.

The emerging structure of vacuolar ATPases.

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Department of Biochemistry, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, The Daniella Rich Institute for Structural Biology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Bioenergetics and physiology of primary pumps have been revitalized by new insights into the mechanism of energizing biomembranes. Structural information is becoming available, and the three-dimensional structure of F-ATPase is being resolved. The growing understanding of the fundamental mechanism of energy coupling may revolutionize our view of biological processes. The F- and V-ATPases (vacuolar-type ATPase) exhibit a common mechanical design in which nucleotide-binding on the catalytic sector, through a cycle of conformation changes, drives the transmembrane passage of protons by turning a membrane-embedded rotor. This motor can run in forward or reverse directions, hydrolyzing ATP as it pumps protons uphill or creating ATP as protons flow downhill. In contrast to F-ATPases, whose primary function in eukaryotic cells is to form ATP at the expense of the proton-motive force (pmf), V-ATPases function exclusively as an ATP-dependent proton pump. The pmf generated by V-ATPases in organelles and membranes of eukaryotic cells is utilized as a driving force for numerous secondary transport processes. V- and F-ATPases have similar structure and mechanism of action, and several of their subunits evolved from common ancestors. Electron microscopy studies of V-ATPase revealed its general structure at low resolution. Recently, several structures of V-ATPase subunits, solved by X-ray crystallography with atomic resolution, were published. This, together with electron microscopy low-resolution maps of the whole complex, and biochemistry cross-linking experiments, allows construction of a structural model for a part of the complex that may be used as a working hypothesis for future research.

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