Structure and function of nitrate and nitrite transporters, NrtA and NitA, from Aspergillus nidulans
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Membrane proteins play an integral role in the control of ion transport across the cell membrane in biological systems. However, due to experimental constraints, structural and functional data available for these proteins is limited, especially considering their importance. In this study, two membrane proteins which transport nitrate and nitrate into the model filamentous ascomycete Aspergillus nidulans were investigated. Work on the twelve trans-membrane domain nitrate transport protein NrtA is well established. As a member of the major facilitator super family (MFS) the role of signature sequences characteristic of this family have previously been studied. Here, a series of point mutations were made to facilitate an understanding of key residues in the nitrate binding domain, the first nitrate signature motif and residues of the unique fungal central-loop domain. Using an expanded alignment package, the proposed secondary structure of NrtA was enhanced and used as a starting point for mutagenesis. Alanine scanning mutagenesis showed that glycine residues in the conserved nitrate nitrite porter (NNP) motif were critical for NrtA function. Two asparagines in the NNP were investigated; N160 and N168. N168 was found to be critical for NrtA function as all mutants were devoid of growth on nitrate solid agar medium though they expressed in the membrane to varying degrees. The nitrate binding site has been studied previously, revealing the interaction of conserved arginine residues with the anion as it traverses the bilayer. Though it was thought that mutations of residue T83 to a small, charge neutral, amino acid would substitute for no alteration to enzyme kinetics in mutant T83S was found when using ¹³NO₃⁻. Another major part of this thesis examined NitA which is part of a distinct nitrite transport family to NrtA (the Formate Nitrite Transporters, FNT). A mutagenesis approach targeted NitA residues conserved amongst homologous proteins. Residues in position D88 in an alignment of homologues were conserved in terms of charge. Mutagenesis of D88 revealed that maintaining charge at this position was essential for NitA function, likely due to a role in salt-bridge formation during conformational changes. Mutations to asparagine, glutamine, serine and valine showed reduced growth on agar though the protein was expressed to approximately wild-type levels. Nitrite uptake assays using a ¹³NO₂⁻ tracer were performed on D88N, D88E and D88Q and all showed wild-type Km and Vmax. Finally, the role of conserved asparagine residues found throughout NitA was investigated by mutagenesis. Expression studies revealed that mutants created in N122 and N246, changed to aspartic acid, lysine, glutamine and serine were generally not present in the membrane and thus did not grow on nitrite agar. However, mutations in N173 (in Tm 4) and N214 (in Tm 5), which are conserved in > 95 % of NitA homologues, showed varying degrees of growth and expression. Both of these residues are located in FNT signature motifs, so it is likely that they are involved with conformational changes or protein dynamics.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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