Alternative proton-binding site and long-distance coupling in Escherichia coli sodium-proton antiporter NhaA

Jack A. Henderson, Yandong Huang, Oliver Beckstein, Jana Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Escherichia coli NhaA is a prototypical sodium-proton antiporter responsible for maintaining cellular ion and volume homeostasis by exchanging two protons for one sodium ion; despite two decades of research, the transport mechanism of NhaA remains poorly understood. Recent crystal structure and computational studies suggested Lys300 as a second proton-binding site; however, functional measurements of several K300 mutants demonstrated electrogenic transport, thereby casting doubt on the role of Lys300. To address the controversy, we carried out state-of-the-art continuous constant pH molecular dynamics simulations of NhaA mutants K300A, K300R, K300Q/D163N, and K300Q/D163N/D133A. Simulations suggested that K300 mutants maintain the electrogenic transport by utilizing an alternative proton-binding residue Asp133. Surprisingly, while Asp133 is solely responsible for binding the second proton in K300R, Asp133 and Asp163 jointly bind the second proton in K300A, and Asp133 and Asp164 jointly bind two protons in K300Q/D163N. Intriguingly, the coupling between Asp133 and Asp163 or Asp164 is enabled through the proton-coupled hydrogen-bonding network at the flexible intersection of two disrupted helices. These data resolve the controversy and highlight the intricacy of the compensatory transport mechanism of NhaA mutants. Alternative proton-binding site and proton sharing between distant aspartates may represent important general mechanisms of proton-coupled transport in secondary active transporters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25517-25522
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 13 2020


  • Cation-proton antiporters
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Protein electrostatics
  • Proton transport
  • Secondary active transporters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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