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PLoS One. 2018 Sep 28;13(9):e0204693. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204693. eCollection 2018.

Evidence for the critical role of transmembrane helices 1 and 7 in substrate transport by human P-glycoprotein (ABCB1).

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Laboratory of Cell Biology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.


P-glycoprotein (P-gp) is an ABC transporter that exports many amphipathic or hydrophobic compounds, including chemically and functionally dissimilar anticancer drugs, from cells. To understand the role of transmembrane helices (TMH) 1 and 7 in drug-binding and transport, we selected six residues from both TMH1 (V53, I59, I60, L65, M68 and F72) and TMH7 (V713, I719, I720, Q725, F728 and F732); and substituted them with alanine by gene synthesis to generate a variant termed "TMH1,7 mutant P-gp". The expression and function of TMH1,7 mutant P-gp with twelve mutations was characterized using the BacMam baculovirus-HeLa cell expression system. The expression and conformation of TMH1,7 mutant P-gp was not altered by the introduction of the twelve mutations, as confirmed by using the human P-gp-specific antibodies UIC2, MRK16 and 4E3. We tested 25 fluorescently-labeled substrates and found that only three substrates, NBD-cyclosporine A, Rhod-2-AM and X-Rhod-1-AM were transported by the TMH1,7 mutant. The basal ATPase activity of TMH1,7 mutant P-gp was lower (40-50%) compared to wild-type (WT) P-gp, despite similar level of expression. Although most of the substrates modulate ATPase activity of P-gp, the activity of TMH1,7 mutant transporter was not significantly modulated by any of the tested substrates. Docking of selected substrates in homology models showed comparable docking scores for the TMH1,7 mutant and WT P-gp, although the binding conformations were different. Both the ATPase assay and in silico docking analyses suggest that the interactions with residues in the drug-binding pocket are altered as a consequence of the mutations. We demonstrate that it is possible to generate a variant of P-gp with a loss of broad substrate specificity and propose that TMH1 and TMH7 play a critical role in the drug efflux function of this multidrug transporter.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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