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Na(+)/H(+) antiporters play a primary role in Na(+)/H(+) homeostasis in cells and many organelles and have long been drug targets. The X-ray structure of NhaA, the main antiporter of Escherichia coli, provided structural insights into the antiport mechanism and its pH regulation and revealed a novel fold; six of the 12 TMs (Trans membrane segments) are organized in two topologically inverted repeats, each with one TM interrupted by an extended chain creating a unique electrostatic environment in the middle of the membrane at the cation binding site. Remarkably, inverted repeats containing interrupted helices with similar functional implications have since been observed in structures of other bacterial secondary transporters with almost no sequence homology. Finally, the structure reveals that NhaA is organized into two functional regions: a 'pH sensor' - a cluster of amino acyl side chains that are involved in pH regulation; and a catalytic region that is 9 Å removed from the pH sensor. Alternative accessibility of the binding site to either side of the membrane, i.e., functional-dynamics, is the essence of secondary transport mechanism. Because NhaA is tightly pH regulated, structures of the pH-activated and ligand-activated NhaA conformations are needed to identify its functional-dynamics. However, as these are static snapshots of a dynamic protein, the dynamics of the protein both in vitro and in situ in the membrane are also required as reviewed here in detail. The results reveal two different conformational changes characterizing NhaA: One is pH-induced for NhaA activation; the other is ligand-induced for antiport activity.


Lena Kozachkov, Etana Padan. Conformational changes in NhaA Na+/H+ antiporter. Molecular membrane biology. 2013 Feb;30(1):90-100

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PMID: 22694117

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