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J Biol Chem. 2010 May 14;285(20):15234-44. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.108746. Epub 2010 Mar 22.

Topologically random insertion of EmrE supports a pathway for evolution of inverted repeats in ion-coupled transporters.

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Department of Biological Chemistry, Alexander A. Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 91904 Jerusalem, Israel.


Inverted repeats in ion-coupled transporters have evolved independently in many unrelated families. It has been suggested that this inverted symmetry is an essential element of the mechanism that allows for the conformational transitions in transporters. We show here that small multidrug transporters offer a model for the evolution of such repeats. This family includes both homodimers and closely related heterodimers. In the former, the topology determinants, evidently identical in each protomer, are weak, and we show that for EmrE, an homodimer from Escherichia coli, the insertion into the membrane is random, and dimers are functional whether they insert into the cytoplasmic membrane with the N- and C-terminal domains facing the inside or the outside of the cell. Also, mutants designed to insert with biased topology are functional regardless of the topology. In the case of EbrAB, a heterodimer homologue supposed to interact antiparallel, we show that one of the subunits, EbrB, can also function as a homodimer, most likely in a parallel mode. In addition, the EmrE homodimer can be forced to an antiparallel topology by fusion of an additional transmembrane segment. The simplicity of the mechanism of coupling ion and substrate transport and the few requirements for substrate recognition provide the robustness necessary to tolerate such a unique and unprecedented ambiguity in the interaction of the subunits and in the dimer topology relative to the membrane. The results suggest that the small multidrug transporters are at an evolutionary junction and provide a model for the evolution of structure of transport proteins.

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