Glutamatergic synaptic transmission is terminated by members of the excitatory amino acid transporter (EAAT) family of proteins that remove glutamate from the synaptic cleft by transporting it into surrounding glial cells. Recent structures of a bacterial homolog suggest that major motions within the transmembrane domain translocate the substrate across the membrane. However, the events leading to this large structural rearrangement are much less clear. Two reentrant loops have been proposed to act as extracellular and intracellular gates, but whether other regions of these proteins play a role in the transport process is unknown. We hypothesized that transport-related conformational changes could change the solvent accessibilities of affected residues, as reflected in protease sensitivity or small-molecule reactivity. In the model system Glt(Ph), an archaeal EAAT homologue from Pyrococcus horikoshii, limited trypsin proteolysis experiments initially identified a site in the long extracellular loop that stretches between helices 3 and 4 that becomes protected from proteolysis in the presence of a substrate, L-aspartate, or an inhibitor, DL-TBOA in the presence of Na(+), the cotransported ion. Using a combination of site-directed cysteine-scanning mutagenesis and fluorescein-5-maleimide labeling we found that positions throughout the loop experience these ligand-induced conformational changes. By selectively cleaving the 3-4 loop (via introduced Factor Xa sites) we demonstrate that it plays a vital role in the transport process; though structurally intact, the cleaved proteins are unable to transport aspartate. These results inculcate the 3-4 loop as an important player in the transport process, a finding not predicted by any of the available crystal structures of Glt(Ph).
- conformational change
- synaptic transmissions