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Nature. 2009 Aug 20;460(7258):1040-3. doi: 10.1038/nature08201. Epub 2009 Jul 5.

Structure of a prokaryotic virtual proton pump at 3.2 A resolution.

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Department of Biochemistry, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, USA.


To reach the mammalian gut, enteric bacteria must pass through the stomach. Many such organisms survive exposure to the harsh gastric environment (pH 1.5-4) by mounting extreme acid-resistance responses, one of which, the arginine-dependent system of Escherichia coli, has been studied at levels of cellular physiology, molecular genetics and protein biochemistry. This multiprotein system keeps the cytoplasm above pH 5 during acid challenge by continually pumping protons out of the cell using the free energy of arginine decarboxylation. At the heart of the process is a 'virtual proton pump' in the inner membrane, called AdiC, that imports L-arginine from the gastric juice and exports its decarboxylation product agmatine. AdiC belongs to the APC superfamily of membrane proteins, which transports amino acids, polyamines and organic cations in a multitude of biological roles, including delivery of arginine for nitric oxide synthesis, facilitation of insulin release from pancreatic beta-cells, and, when inappropriately overexpressed, provisioning of certain fast-growing neoplastic cells with amino acids. High-resolution structures and detailed transport mechanisms of APC transporters are currently unknown. Here we describe a crystal structure of AdiC at 3.2 A resolution. The protein is captured in an outward-open, substrate-free conformation with transmembrane architecture remarkably similar to that seen in four other families of apparently unrelated transport proteins.

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