- X-ray structure of the Na+-coupled Glycine-Betaine symporter BetP from Corynebacterium glutamicum (2009)
- Cellular membranes are important sites of interaction between cells and their environment. Among the multitude of macromolecular complexes embedded in these membranes, transporters play a particularly important role. These integral membrane proteins perform a number of vital functions that enable cell adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Osmotic stress is a major external stimulus for cells. Bacteria are frequently exposed to either hyperosmotic or hypoosmotic stress. Typical conditions for soil bacteria, such as Corynebacterium glutamicum, vary between dryness and sudden rainfall. Physical stimuli caused by osmotic stress have to be sensed and used to activate appropriate response mechanisms. Hypoosmotic stress causes immediate and uncontrolled influx of water. Cells counteract by instantly opening mechanosensitive channels, which act as emergency valves leading to fast efflux of small solutes out of the cell, therebydiminishing the osmotic gradient across the cell membrane. Hyperosmotic stress, on the other hand, results in water efflux. This is counterbalanced by an accumulation of small, osmotically active solutes in the cytoplasm, the so-called compatible solutes. They comprise a large variety of substances, including amino acids (proline), amino acid derivatives (betaine, ectoine), oligosaccharides (trehalose), and heterosides (glucosylglycerol). Osmoregulated transporters sense intracellular osmotic pressure and respond to hyperosmotic stress by facilitating the inward translocation of compatible solutes across the cell membrane, to restore normal hydration levels. This work presents the first X-ray structure of a member of the Betaine-Choline-Carnitine-Transporter (BCCT) family, BetP. This Na+-coupled symporter from Corynebacterium glutamicum is a highly effective osmoregulated and specific uptake system for glycine-betaine. X-ray structure determination was achieved using single wavelength anomalous dispersion (SAD) of selenium atoms. Selenium was incorporated into the protein during its expression in methione auxotrophic E. coli cells, grown in media supplemented with selenomethionine. SAD data with anomalous signal up to 5 Å led to the detection of 39 selenium sites, which were used to calculate the initial electron density map of the protein. Medium resolution and high data anisotropy made the structure determination of BetP a challenging task. A specific strategy for data anisotropy correction and a combination of various crystallographic programs were necessary to obtain an interpretable electron density map suitable for model building. The crystal structure of BetP shows a trimer with glycine-betaine bound in a three-fold cation-pi interaction built by conserved tryptophan residues. The bound substrate is occluded from both sides of the membrane and aromatic side chains line its transport pathway. Very interestingly, the structure reveals that the alpha-helical C-terminal domain, for which a chemo- and osmosensory function was elucidated by biochemical methods, interacts with cytoplasmic loops of an adjacent monomer. These unexpected monomer-monomer interactions are thought to be crucial for the activation mechanism of BetP, and a new atomic model combing biochemical results with the crystal structure is proposed. BetP is shown to have the same overall fold as three unrelated Na+-coupled symporters. While these were crystallised in either the outward- or inward-facing conformation, BetP reveals a unique intermediate state, opening new perspectives on the alternating access mechanism of transport.