Control of ion selectivity in LeuT: two Na+ binding sites with two different mechanisms

J Mol Biol. 2008 Mar 28;377(3):804-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.01.015. Epub 2008 Jan 15.


The x-ray structure of LeuT, a bacterial homologue of Na(+)/Cl(-)-dependent neurotransmitter transporters, provides a great opportunity to better understand the molecular basis of monovalent cation selectivity in ion-coupled transporters. LeuT possesses two ion binding sites, NA1 and NA2, which are highly selective for Na(+). Extensive all-atom free-energy molecular dynamics simulations of LeuT embedded in an explicit membrane are performed at different temperatures and various occupancy states of the binding sites to dissect the molecular mechanism of ion selectivity. The results show that the two binding sites display robust selectivity for Na(+) over K(+) or Li(+), the competing ions of most similar radii. Of particular interest, the mechanism primarily responsible for selectivity for each of the two binding sites appears to be different. In NA1, selectivity for Na(+) over K(+) arises predominantly from the strong electrostatic field arising from the negatively charged carboxylate group of the leucine substrate coordinating the ion directly. In NA2, which comprises only neutral ligands, selectivity for Na(+) is enforced by the local structural restraints arising from the hydrogen-bonding network and the covalent connectivity of the polypeptide chain surrounding the ion according to a "snug-fit" mechanism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / chemistry*
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Binding Sites
  • Cations, Monovalent / metabolism
  • Computer Simulation
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Ion Transport
  • Leucine / metabolism*
  • Lithium / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins / chemistry*
  • Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Sodium / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Cations, Monovalent
  • Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins
  • Lithium
  • Sodium
  • Leucine
  • Potassium