Transient formation of water-conducting states in membrane transporters

Jing Li, Saher A. Shaikh, Giray Enkavi, Po Chao Wen, Zhijian Huang, Emad Tajkhorshid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Membrane transporters rely on highly coordinated structural transitions between major conformational states for their function, to prevent simultaneous access of the substrate binding site to both sides of the membrane-amode of operation known as the alternating access model. Although this mechanismsuccessfully accounts for the efficient exchange of the primary substrate across the membrane, accruing evidence on significant water transport and even uncoupled ion transport mediated by transporters has challenged the concept of perfect mechanical coupling and coordination of the gatingmechanismin transporters,which might be expected fromthe alternating access model. Here, we present a large set of extended equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations performed on several classes of membrane transporters in different conformational states, to test the presence of the phenomenon in diverse transporter classes and to investigate the underlying molecularmechanism ofwater transport through membrane transporters. The simulations reveal spontaneous formation of transient water-conducting (channel-like) states allowing passive water diffusion through the lumen of the transporters. These channel-like states are permeable to water but occluded to substrate, thereby not hindering the uphill transport of the primary substrate, i.e., the alternating access model remains applicable to the substrate. The rise of such water-conducting states during the large-scale structural transitions of the transporter protein is indicative of imperfections in the coordinated closing and opening motions of the cytoplasmic and extracellular gates.We propose that the observed water-conducting states likely represent a universal phenomenon in membrane transporters, which is consistent with their reliance on large-scale motion for function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7696-7701
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 7 2013


  • ABC transporters
  • LeuT-fold transporters
  • Major facilitator superfamily
  • Neurotransmitter transporters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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