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J Bioinform Comput Biol. 2008 Oct;6(5):885-904.

Modeling of glycerol-3-phosphate transporter suggests a potential 'tilt' mechanism involved in its function.

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San Diego Supercomputer Center, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.


Many major facilitator superfamily (MFS) transporters have similar 12-transmembrane alpha-helical topologies with two six-helix halves connected by a long loop. In humans, these transporters participate in key physiological processes and are also, as in the case of members of the organic anion transporter (OAT) family, of pharmaceutical interest. Recently, crystal structures of two bacterial representatives of the MFS family--the glycerol-3-phosphate transporter (GlpT) and lac-permease (LacY)--have been solved and, because of assumptions regarding the high structural conservation of this family, there is hope that the results can be applied to mammalian transporters as well. Based on crystallography, it has been suggested that a major conformational "switching" mechanism accounts for ligand transport by MFS proteins. This conformational switch would then allow periodic changes in the overall transporter configuration, resulting in its cyclic opening to the periplasm or cytoplasm. Following this lead, we have modeled a possible "switch" mechanism in GlpT, using the concept of rotation of protein domains as in the DynDom program17 and membranephilic constraints predicted by the MAPAS program.(23) We found that the minima of energies of intersubunit interactions support two alternate positions consistent with their transport properties. Thus, for GlpT, a "tilt" of 9 degrees -10 degrees rotation had the most favorable energetics of electrostatic interaction between the two halves of the transporter; moreover, this confirmation was sufficient to suggest transport of the ligand across the membrane. We conducted steered molecular dynamics simulations of the GlpT-ligand system to explore how glycerol-3-phosphate would be handled by the "tilted" structure, and obtained results generally consistent with experimental mutagenesis data. While biochemical data remain most consistent with a single-site alternating access model, our results raise the possibility that, while the "rocker switch" may apply to certain MFS transporters, intermediate "tilted" states may exist under certain circumstances or as transitional structures. Although wet lab experimental confirmation is required, our results suggest that transport mechanisms in this transporter family should probably not be assumed to be conserved simply based on standard structural homology considerations. Furthermore, steered molecular dynamics elucidating energetic interactions of ligands with amino acid residues in an appropriately modeled transporter may have predictive value in understanding the impact of mutations and/or polymorphisms on transporter function.

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