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Unbiased simulations reveal the inward-facing conformation of the human serotonin transporter and Na+ ion release

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Monoamine transporters are responsible for termination of synaptic signaling and are involved in depression, control of appetite, and anxiety amongst other neurological processes. Despite extensive efforts, the structures of the monoamine transporters and the transport mechanism of ions and substrates are still largely unknown. Structural knowledge of the human serotonin transporter (hSERT) is much awaited for understanding the mechanistic details of substrate translocation and binding of antidepressants and drugs of abuse. The publication of the crystal structure of the homologous leucine transporter has resulted in homology models of the monoamine transporters. Here we present extended molecular dynamics simulations of an experimentally supported homology model of hSERT with and without the natural substrate yielding a total of more than 1.5 µs of simulation of the protein dimer. The simulations reveal a transition of hSERT from an outward-facing occluded conformation to an inward-facing conformation in a one-substrate-bound state. Simulations with a second substrate in the proposed symport effector site did not lead to conformational changes associated with translocation. The central substrate binding site becomes fully exposed to the cytoplasm leaving both the Na+-ion in the Na2-site and the substrate in direct contact with the cytoplasm through water interactions. The simulations reveal how sodium is released and show indications of early events of substrate transport. The notion that ion dissociation from the Na2-site drives translocation is supported by experimental studies of a Na2-site mutant. Transmembrane helices (TMs) 1 and 6 are identified as the helices involved in the largest movements during transport.
Original languageEnglish
JournalP L o S Computational Biology (Online)
Pages (from-to)e1002246
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2011

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