Ammonium transporters achieve charge transfer by fragmenting their substrate

Shihao Wang, Esam A. Orabi, Sefer Baday, Simon Bernèche*, Guillaume Lamoureux

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Proteins of the Amt/MEP family facilitate ammonium transport across the membranes of plants, fungi, and bacteria and are essential for growth in nitrogen-poor environments. Some are known to facilitate the diffusion of the neutral NH 3, while others, notably in plants, transport the positively charged NH 4 +. On the basis of the structural data for AmtB from Escherichia coli, we illustrate the mechanism by which proteins from the Amt family can sustain electrogenic transport. Free energy calculations show that NH 4 + is stable in the AmtB pore, reaching a binding site from which it can spontaneously transfer a proton to a pore-lining histidine residue (His168). The substrate diffuses down the pore in the form of NH 3, while the excess proton is cotransported through a highly conserved hydrogen-bonded His168-His318 pair. This constitutes a novel permeation mechanism that confers to the histidine dyad an essential mechanistic role that was so far unknown.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10419-10427
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung139205


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