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J Biol Chem. 2012 Jan 2;287(1):105-13. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.304873. Epub 2011 Oct 27.

Probing binding pocket of serotonin transporter by single molecular force spectroscopy on living cells.

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Institute for Biophysics, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Altenbergerstrasse 69, 4040 Linz, Austria.


The serotonin transporter (SERT) terminates neurotransmission by removing serotonin from the synaptic cleft. In addition, it is the site of action of antidepressants (which block the transporter) and of amphetamines (which induce substrate efflux). The interaction energies involved in binding of such compounds to the transporter are unknown. Here, we used atomic force microscopy (AFM) to probe single molecular interactions between the serotonin transporter and MFZ2-12 (a potent cocaine analog) in living CHOK1 cells. For the AFM measurements, MFZ2-12 was immobilized on AFM tips by using a heterobifunctional cross-linker. By varying the pulling velocity in force distance cycles drug-transporter complexes were ruptured at different force loadings allowing for mapping of the interaction energy landscape. We derived chemical rate constants from these recordings and compared them with those inferred from inhibition of transport and ligand binding: koff values were in good agreement with those derived from uptake experiments; in contrast, the kon values were scaled down when determined by AFM. Our observations generated new insights into the energy landscape of the interaction between SERT and inhibitors. They thus provide a useful framework for molecular dynamics simulations by exploring the range of forces and energies that operate during the binding reaction.

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