by Yarden Golan, Raphael Alhadeff, Arieh Warshel, Yehuda G. Assaraf
Zinc is a vital trace element crucial for the proper function of some 3,000 cellular proteins. Specifically, zinc is essential for key physiological processes including nucleic acid metabolism, regulation of gene expression, signal transduction, cell division, immune- and nervous system functions, wound healing, and apoptosis. Consequently, impairment of zinc homeostasis disrupts key cellular functions resulting in various human pathologies. Mammalian zinc transport proceeds via two transporter families ZnT and ZIP. However, the detailed mechanism of action of ZnT2, which is responsible for vesicular zinc accumulation and zinc secretion into breast milk during lactation, is currently unknown. Moreover, although the putative coupling of zinc transport to the proton gradient in acidic vesicles has been suggested, it has not been conclusively established. Herein we modeled the mechanism of action of ZnT2 and demonstrated both computationally and experimentally, using functional zinc transport assays, that ZnT2 is indeed a proton-coupled zinc antiporter. Bafilomycin A1, a specific inhibitor of vacuolar-type proton ATPase (V-ATPase) which alkalizes acidic vesicles, abolished ZnT2-dependent zinc transport into intracellular vesicles. Moreover, using LysoTracker Red and Lyso-pHluorin, we further showed that upon transient ZnT2 overexpression in intracellular vesicles and addition of exogenous zinc, the vesicular pH underwent alkalization, presumably due to a proton-zinc antiport; this phenomenon was reversed in the presence of TPEN, a specific zinc chelator. Finally, based on computational energy calculations, we propose that ZnT2 functions as an antiporter with a stoichiometry of 2H+/Zn2+ ion. Hence, ZnT2 is a proton motive force-driven, electroneutral vesicular zinc exchanger, concentrating zinc in acidic vesicles on the expense of proton extrusion to the cytoplasm.
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