Single mutation dramatically changes structure, function of bacteria's transporter proteins

Single mutation dramatically changes structure and function of bacteria's transporter proteins
Schematic showing the two protein subunits (blue and green) of a simple transporter in E. coli changing the direction of its opening so it can pump a toxic compound (orange) across the cell's membrane (grey). Credit: Nathaniel Traaseth and Ampon Sae Her (CC BY 4.0)

Swapping a single amino acid in a simple bacterial protein changes its structure and function, revealing the effects of complex gene evolution, finds a new study published in the journal eLife. The study—conducted using E. coli bacteria—can help researchers to better understand the evolution of transporter proteins and their role in drug resistance.

"We were quite surprised by how minor mutations can influence the structure and function of transporter proteins," said Nate Traaseth, associate professor of chemistry at New York University and the study's senior author.

Cells are bound by a thin membrane layer that protects its interior from the outside environment. Within this layer are that control which substances are allowed in and out of the cell. These transporters actively move substances across the by loading cargo on one side of the layer, then changing their structure to release it on the other side.

Membrane transporters are typically made up of multiple repeating units. In more complex transporters, the genetic sequence for each of these structural units is fused together into a that codes for the protein.

It is thought that the repeated pattern evolved from smaller membrane protein genes that had duplicated and fused together. But are there evolutionary advantages to having more complex transporters being produced from a single, fused gene?

To investigate this, Traaseth and colleagues Maureen Leninger and Ampon (Callie) Sae Her in NYU's Department of Chemistry examined a simple transporter found in E. coli bacteria, which is plentiful in human and animal intestines. However, some strains of E. coli can cause serious illness and are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, which occurs when they pump out toxic compounds using transporters in their membrane. The E. coli transporter, called EmrE, contains two identical protein subunits that work together to move toxic molecules across the membrane and eliminate them from the cell.

Experiments revealed that changing a single amino acid—the building blocks that make up proteins—in one of the two subunits to make them slightly different from each other dramatically modified the transporter's structure and function. The subtle amino acid swap disrupted the balance of inward- and outward-facing proteins.

Importantly, changing the single amino acid altered the transporter's ability to remove from E. coli and reduced the bacteria's resistance to drugs—which may have future implications for drug development and combating antibiotic resistance.

"While the clinical application of these findings is a few steps away, understanding the evolution of drug transporters gives us new insight into how Mother Nature may harness mutations to provide ," said Traaseth.

The researchers note that the effects of a minor change to one of the identical halves of the EmrE transporter demonstrates how sensitive membrane transporters are to mutations.

"This observation could also help explain why evolution favored more complex transporters comprised of fused genes in which changes can alter how the transporter operates," added Traaseth.


Explore further

Characterisation of the structure of a member of the L-Amino acid Transporter (LAT) family

More information: Maureen Leninger et al, Inducing conformational preference of the membrane protein transporter EmrE through conservative mutations, eLife (2019). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.48909
Journal information: eLife

Citation: Single mutation dramatically changes structure, function of bacteria's transporter proteins (2019, October 22) retrieved 15 November 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-10-mutation-function-bacteria-proteins.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
75 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments