The serotonin transporter (SERT) regulates neurotransmitter homeostasis through the sodium- and chloride-dependent recycling of serotonin into presynaptic neurons1–3. Major depression and anxiety disorders are treated using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—small molecules that competitively block substrate binding and thereby prolong neurotransmitter action2,4. The dopamine and noradrenaline transporters, together with SERT, are members of the neurotransmitter sodium symporter (NSS) family. The transport activities of NSSs can be inhibited or modulated by cocaine and amphetamines2,3, and genetic variants of NSSs are associated with several neuropsychiatric disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and bipolar disorder2,5. Studies of bacterial NSS homologues—including LeuT—have shown how their transmembrane helices (TMs) undergo conformational changes during the transport cycle, exposing a central binding site to either side of the membrane1,6–12. However, the conformational changes associated with transport in NSSs remain unknown. To elucidate structure-based mechanisms for transport in SERT we investigated its complexes with ibogaine, a hallucinogenic natural product with psychoactive and anti-addictive properties13,14. Notably, ibogaine is a non-competitive inhibitor of transport but displays competitive binding towards selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors15,16. Here we report cryo-electron microscopy structures of SERT–ibogaine complexes captured in outward-open, occluded and inward-open conformations. Ibogaine binds to the central binding site, and closure of the extracellular gate largely involves movements of TMs 1b and 6a. Opening of the intracellular gate involves a hinge-like movement of TM1a and the partial unwinding of TM5, which together create a permeation pathway that enables substrate and ion diffusion to the cytoplasm. These structures define the structural rearrangements that occur from the outward-open to inward-open conformations, and provide insight into the mechanism of neurotransmitter transport and ibogaine inhibition.
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