Structural and functional significance of water permeation through cotransporters

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Membrane transporters, in addition to their major role as specific carriers for ions and small molecules, can also behave as water channels. However, neither the location of the water pathway in the protein nor their functional importance is known. Here, we map the pathway for water and urea through the intestinal sodium/glucose cotransporter SGLT1. Molecular dynamics simulations using the atomic structure of the bacterial transporter vSGLT suggest that water permeates the same path as Na+ and sugar. On a structural model of SGLT1, based on the homology structure of vSGLT, we identified and mutated residues lining the sugar transport pathway to cysteine. The mutants were expressed in Xenopus oocytes, and the unitary water and urea permeabilities were determined before and after modifying the cysteine side chain with reversible methanethiosulfonate reagents. The results demonstrate that water and urea follow the sugar transport pathway through SGLT1. The changes in permeability, increases or decreases, with side-chain modifications depend on the location of the mutation in the region of external or internal gates, or the sugar binding site. These changes in permeability are hypothesized to be due to alterations in steric hindrance to water and urea, and/or changes in protein folding caused by mismatching of side chains in the water pathway. Water permeation through SGLT1 and other transporters bears directly on the structural mechanism for the transport of polar solutes through these proteins. Finally, in vitro experiments on mouse small intestine show that SGLT1 accounts for two-thirds of the passive water flow across the gut.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number44
Pages (from-to)E6887-E6894
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016

    Research areas

  • water, transport, urea, SGLT1, glucose

ID: 169563382