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Curr Biol. 2011 Jan 25;21(2):149-53. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.12.031. Epub 2011 Jan 13.

Opsin is a phospholipid flippase.

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Department of Biochemistry, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY 10065, USA.


Polar lipids must flip-flop rapidly across biological membranes to sustain cellular life [1, 2], but flipping is energetically costly [3] and its intrinsic rate is low. To overcome this problem, cells have membrane proteins that function as lipid transporters (flippases) to accelerate flipping to a physiologically relevant rate. Flippases that operate at the plasma membrane of eukaryotes, coupling ATP hydrolysis to unidirectional lipid flipping, have been defined at a molecular level [2]. On the other hand, ATP-independent bidirectional flippases that translocate lipids in biogenic compartments, e.g., the endoplasmic reticulum, and specialized membranes, e.g., photoreceptor discs [4, 5], have not been identified even though their activity has been recognized for more than 30 years [1]. Here, we demonstrate that opsin is the ATP-independent phospholipid flippase of photoreceptor discs. We show that reconstitution of opsin into large unilamellar vesicles promotes rapid (τ<10 s) flipping of phospholipid probes across the vesicle membrane. This is the first molecular identification of an ATP-independent phospholipid flippase in any system. It reveals an unexpected activity for opsin and, in conjunction with recently available structural information on this G protein-coupled receptor [6, 7], significantly advances our understanding of the mechanism of ATP-independent lipid flip-flop.

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