Protons and how they are transported by proton pumps

Pflugers Arch. 2009 Jan;457(3):573-9. doi: 10.1007/s00424-008-0503-8. Epub 2008 May 6.


The very high mobility of protons in aqueous solutions demands special features of membrane proton transporters to sustain efficient yet regulated proton transport across biological membranes. By the use of the chemical energy of ATP, plasma-membrane-embedded ATPases extrude protons from cells of plants and fungi to generate electrochemical proton gradients. The recently published crystal structure of a plasma membrane H(+)-ATPase contributes to our knowledge about the mechanism of these essential enzymes. Taking the biochemical and structural data together, we are now able to describe the basic molecular components that allow the plasma membrane proton H(+)-ATPase to carry out proton transport against large membrane potentials. When divergent proton pumps such as the plasma membrane H(+)-ATPase, bacteriorhodopsin, and F(O)F(1) ATP synthase are compared, unifying mechanistic premises for biological proton pumps emerge. Most notably, the minimal pumping apparatus of all pumps consists of a central proton acceptor/donor, a positively charged residue to control pK(a) changes of the proton acceptor/donor, and bound water molecules to facilitate rapid proton transport along proton wires.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / chemistry
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proton Pumps / chemistry
  • Proton Pumps / metabolism*
  • Protons*
  • Water / chemistry


  • Proton Pumps
  • Protons
  • Water
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases