Identification and structure of a putative Ca2+-binding domain at the C terminus of AQP1

J Mol Biol. 2002 May 17;318(5):1381-94. doi: 10.1016/s0022-2836(02)00143-2.


Aquaporin-1 (AQP1) is the first functionally identified aquaporin of a growing family of membrane water channels found in all forms of life. Recently, a possible secondary function as a cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) gated ion channel was attributed to AQP1. We have reconstituted purified protein from bovine and human red blood cell membranes into highly ordered 2D crystals. The topography of both AQP1s was determined by electron microscopy from freeze-dried, unidirectionally metal-shadowed 2D crystals as well as from surface topographs of native crystals recorded in buffer solution with the atomic force microscope (AFM). In spite of the high level of sequence homology between bovine and human AQP1, the surfaces showed distinct differences. Alignment of both sequences and comparison of the acquired surface topographies with the atomic model of human AQP1 revealed the topographic changes on the surface of bovine AQP1 to be induced by a few amino acid substitutions. A striking degree of sequence homology was found between the carboxyl-terminal domains of AQP1s from different organisms and EF-hands from Ca2+-binding proteins belonging to the calmodulin superfamily, suggesting the existence of a Ca2+-binding site at the C terminus of AQP1 instead of the putative cGMP-binding site reported previously. To unveil its position on the acquired surface topographies, 2D crystals of AQP1 were digested with carboxypeptidase Y, which cleaves off the intracellular C terminus. Difference maps of AFM topographs between the native and the peptidase-treated AQP1s showed the carboxylic tail to be close to the 4-fold symmetry axis of the tetramer. SDS-PAGE and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry of native and decarboxylated bovine and human AQP1 revealed that the EF-hand motif found at the C terminus of AQP1 was partially resistant to peptidase digestion. The importance of the C-terminal domain is implicated by structural instability of decarboxylated AQP1. A possible role of the C terminus and calcium in translocation of AQP1 in cholangiocytes from intracellular vesicles to the plasma membrane and in triggering its fusion is discussed. Functional studies are now required to identify the physiological role of the Ca2+-binding site.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Aquaporin 1
  • Aquaporins / chemistry*
  • Aquaporins / genetics
  • Aquaporins / metabolism
  • Binding Sites
  • Blood Group Antigens
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment


  • AQP1 protein, human
  • Aquaporins
  • Blood Group Antigens
  • Aquaporin 1
  • Calcium