Background: ATP binding cassette (ABC) transporters are ubiquitously distributed transmembrane solute pumps that play a causative role in numerous diseases. Previous structures have defined the fold of the ABC and established the flexibility of its alpha-helical subdomain. But the nature of the mechanical changes that occur at each step of the chemical ATPase cycle have not been defined.
Results: Crystal structures were determined of the MJ1267 ABC from Methanococcus jannaschii in Mg-ADP-bound and nucleotide-free forms. Comparison of these structures reveals an induced-fit effect at the active site likely to be a consequence of nucleotide binding. In the Mg-ADP-bound structure, the loop following the Walker B moves toward the Walker A (P-loop) coupled to backbone conformational changes in the intervening "H-loop", which contains an invariant histidine. These changes affect the region believed to mediate intercassette interaction in the ABC transporter complex. Comparison of the Mg-ADP-bound structure of MJ1267 to the ATP-bound structure of HisP suggests that an outward rotation of the alpha-helical subdomain is coupled to the loss of a molecular contact between the gamma-phosphate of ATP and an invariant glutamine in a segment connecting this subdomain to the core of the cassette.
Conclusions: The induced-fit effect and rotation of the alpha-helical subdomain may play a role in controlling the nucleotide-dependent change in cassette-cassette interaction affinity believed to represent the power-stroke of ABC transporters. Outward rotation of the alpha-helical subdomain also likely facilitates Mg-ADP release after hydrolysis. The MJ1267 structures therefore define features of the nucleotide-dependent conformational changes that drive transmembrane transport in ABC transporters.