A two-lane mechanism for selective biological ammonium transport

Williamson, Gordon and Tamburrino, Guila and Bizior, Adriana and Boeckstaens, Mélanie and Dias Mirandela, Gaëtan and Bage, Marcus G and Pisliakov, Andrei and Ives, Callum M and Terras, Eilidh and Hoskisson, Paul A and Marini, Anna Maria and Zachariae, Ulrich and Javelle, Arnaud (2020) A two-lane mechanism for selective biological ammonium transport. eLife, 9. e57183. ISSN 2050-084X

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    The transport of charged molecules across biological membranes faces the dual problem of accommodating charges in a highly hydrophobic environment while maintaining selective substrate translocation. This has been the subject of a particular controversy for the exchange of ammonium across cellular membranes, an essential process in all domains of life. Ammonium transport is mediated by the ubiquitous Amt/Mep/Rh transporters that includes the human Rhesus factors. Here, using a combination of electrophysiology, yeast functional complementation and extended molecular dynamics simulations, we reveal a unique two-lane pathway for electrogenic NH4+ transport in two archetypal members of the family, the transporters AmtB from Escherichia coli and Rh50 from Nitrosomonas europaea. The pathway underpins a mechanism by which charged H+ and neutral NH3 are carried separately across the membrane after NH4+ deprotonation. This mechanism defines a new principle of achieving transport selectivity against competing ions in a biological transport process.