Identification of functional amino acids in the Nramp family by a combination of evolutionary analysis and biophysical studies of metal and proton cotransport in vivo

Biochemistry. 2005 Jan 18;44(2):726-33. doi: 10.1021/bi048014v.


The natural resistance-associated macrophage protein (Nramp) family is functionally conserved in bacteria and eukarya; Nramp homologues function as proton-dependent membrane transporters of divalent metals. Sequence analyses indicate that five phylogenetic groups comprise the Nramp family, three bacterial and two eukaryotic, which are distinct from a more distantly related group of microbial sequences (Nramp outgroup). The Nramp family and outgroup share many conserved residues, suggesting they derived from a common ancestor and raising the possibility that the residues invariant in the Nramp family that correspond to residues which are different but also conserved in the outgroup represent candidate sites of functional divergence of the Nramp family. Four Nramp family-specific residues were identified within transmembrane domains 1, 6, and 11, and replaced by the corresponding invariant outgroup residues in the Escherichia coli Nramp ortholog (the proton-dependent manganese transporter, MntH of group A, EcoliA). The resulting mutants (Asp(34)Gly, Asn(37)Thr, His(211)Tyr, and Asn(401)Gly) were tested for both divalent metal uptake and proton transport; quasi-simultaneous analyses of uptake of metals and protons revealed for the first time protons and metals cotransport by a bacterial Nramp homologue. Additional mutations were studied for comparison (Asp(34)Asn, Asn(37)Asp and Asn(37)Val, Asn(401)Thr, His(211)Ala, His(216)Ala, and His(216)Arg). EcoliA activity was impaired after each of the Nramp/outgroup substitutions, as well as after more conservative replacements, showing that the tested sites are all important for metal uptake and metal-dependent H(+) transport. It is proposed that co-occurrence of these four Nramp-specific transmembrane residues may have contributed to the emergence of this family of metal and proton cotransporters.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry*
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Asparagine / chemistry
  • Asparagine / genetics
  • Aspartic Acid / chemistry
  • Aspartic Acid / genetics
  • Cadmium / metabolism
  • Cation Transport Proteins / chemistry*
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / genetics
  • Cobalt / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / chemistry*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Ferrous Compounds / metabolism
  • Histidine / chemistry
  • Histidine / genetics
  • Manganese / metabolism
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Protein Transport / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics
  • Protons*


  • Amino Acids
  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Ferrous Compounds
  • Metals, Heavy
  • MntH protein, E coli
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Protons
  • natural resistance-associated macrophage protein 1
  • Cadmium
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Cobalt
  • Manganese
  • Histidine
  • Asparagine