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Aromaticity and Flexibility of Transmembrane Helix 12 Contribute to Substrate Recognition and Transport in Human P-Glycoprotein

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posted on 14.12.2020, 22:21 by Jason A Goebel
Human p-glycoprotein (P-gp) is an ATP-binding cassette transporter that actively transports a diverse set of substrates at the plasma membrane. Specifically, P-gp is expressed most highly at important blood tissue barriers on the lumenal side of endothelial cells and secretory tissues asymmetrically where it provides generalized protection against xenobiotics due to its promiscuous substrate binding pocket. Substrates typically interact with P-gp within the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane before being effluxed through large conformation changes driven by ATP binding and hydrolysis. Since many small molecule drugs are substrates of P-gp and P-gp has the ability to transport chemically and structurally diverse molecules, delivery of bioavailable small molecule therapies and treatment of diseases beyond blood-tissue barriers may be difficult. In cancer, expression of P-gp may confer a multidrug resistance phenotype due to upregulation of the MDR1 gene, which encodes P-gp, in response to treatment with chemotherapies. Treatments of diseases beyond blood-tissue barriers and some cancers may be more complex given the protective role of P-gp coupled with it promiscuous substrate binding site.
Many studies of P-gp have been centered around understanding the structure function relationship of how P-gp effluxes small molecules across the plasma membrane. Here we have used a transient Vaccinia virus expression system to rapidly express many mutants of P-gp in human cells for analysis. Transient expression using the Vaccinia system was optimized to produce a large amount of protein while avoiding significant cell death. Optimization of the Vaccinia expression system has also helped to show that changes in P-gp surface expression are not correlated to changes in substrate accumulation within cells expressing P-gp, a topic that has yet to be addressed within the field of P-gp study. Reduced surface expression of P-gp to 68% maintained the same level of reduced cellular accumulation of two substrates, calcein-AM and rhodamine 123, relative to a WT P-gp control. Further study of P-gp mutations revealed a Y998A mutation had a 90% reduction of surface expression but the same reduction of cellular accumulation of rhodamine 123 further supporting that changes in surface expression do not correlate to changes in substrate transport.
We then sought to demonstrate how flexibility in transmembrane helix (TMH) 12 of P-gp affected overall stability and transport ability in vitro. TMH 12 in inward facing conformations shows a region of decreased hydrogen bonding in the backbone of the helix leading to a “kink” present in many crystal structures of C. elegans and mouse P-gp as well as in an occluded structure of human P-gp. Outward facing crystal structures of C. elegans, mouse, and human P-gp show TMH 12 where the backbone of the helix is fully hydrogen bonded and ordered. The change in hydrogen bonding pattern and the presence of the kink in TMH 12 suggest the importance of flexibility in the function of TMH 12. Clustal Omega was used to align the primary structure of P-gp between 8 species and a conserved sequence of 996-PDYAKA-1001 was identified aligning with the kink observed in crystallographic data. The kinked nature of this region led to our development of a rigid poly-alanine mutation and a flexible poly-glycine mutation based on the propensity of these amnio acids to form helices. The more flexible poly-glycine mutation obtained no significant transport while the poly-alanine mutation maintained some ability to transport fluorescent substrate relative to a WT control. Crosslinking of the nucleotide binding domains (NBDs) revealed a decrease of NBD dimerization likely correlating to decreased transport. Thus, some degree of flexibility within the kink region is critical for substrate transport as rigid and flexible mutations of this region abrogate transport of fluorescent substrates.
While the substrate binding pocket it located towards the interior of P-gp within the lipid bilayer, it has been theorized that substrates may interact with P-gp at the lipid-protein interface of the inner leaflet near portals for substrate entry formed by pairs of helices either side of the protein. To test this hypothesis, aromatic residues on TMH 12 and adjacent elbow helix 2 near the interface region of the inner leaflet, that have also been observed to interact with a cyclic peptide in a crystal structure of P-gp, were mutated to alanine. Y998, on TMH 12, was shown to interact with the cyclic peptide and is ideally located at the protein-lipid interface near a surface formed by elbow helix 2 and TMH 9 and was observed to have the largest effect on substrate accumulation. Accumulation of fluorescent substrates, relative to WT P-gp, was increased though not all substrates were affected similarly. No increase of accumulation was observed with rhodamine 123 while accumulation of BD-prazosin increased 65% relative to WT P-gp. It is to be expected that the large diversity of substrates recognized by P-gp would interact preferentially with carrying residues at the protein-lipid interface similar to observations of substrate binding at the substrate binding pocket. Variability in accumulation signifies that substrates do interact with P-gp at the lipid-protein interface and substrates interact differently at this interface similarly to substrate interaction at the substrate biding pocket.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy



Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Christine A Hrycyna

Additional Committee Member 2

Jean A Chmielewski

Additional Committee Member 3

Angeline M Lyon

Additional Committee Member 4

Shalini T Low-Nam