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J Biol Chem. 1996 Nov 1;271(44):27715-22.

Brain glutamate transporter proteins form homomultimers.

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Department of Anatomy, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, P. O. Box 1105 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway.


Removal of excitatory amino acids from the extracellular fluid is essential for synaptic transmission and for avoiding excitotoxicity. The removal is accomplished by glutamate transporters located in the plasma membranes of both neurons and astroglia. The uptake system consists of several different transporter proteins that are carefully regulated, indicating more refined functions than simple transmitter inactivation. Here we show by chemical cross-linking, followed by electrophoresis and immunoblotting, that three rat brain glutamate transporter proteins (GLAST, GLT and EAAC) form homomultimers. The multimers exist not only in intact brain membranes but also after solubilization and after reconstitution in liposomes. Increasing the cross-linker concentration increased the immunoreactivity of the bands corresponding to trimers at the expense of the dimer and monomer bands. However, the immunoreactivities of the dimer bands did not disappear, indicating a mixture of dimers and trimers. GLT and GLAST do not complex with each other, but as demonstrated by double labeling post-embedding electron microscopic immunocytochemistry, they co-exist side by side in the same astrocytic cell membranes. The oligomers are held together noncovalently in vivo. In vitro, oxidation induces formation of covalent bonds (presumably -S-S-) between the subunits of the oligomers leading to the appearance of oligomer bands on SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Immunoprecipitation experiments suggest that GLT is the quantitatively dominant glutamate transporter in the brain. Radiation inactivation analysis gives a molecular target size of the functional complex corresponding to oligomeric structure. We postulate that the glutamate transporters operate as homomultimeric complexes.

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