We studied the photocurrents of a cyanobacterial rhodopsin Gloeobacter violaceus (GR) in Xenopus laevis oocytes and HEK-293 cells. This protein is a light-driven proton pump with striking similarities to marine proteorhodopsins, including the D121-H87 cluster of the retinal Schiff base counterion and a glutamate at position 132 that acts as a proton donor for chromophore reprotonation during the photocycle. Interestingly, at low extracellular pH(o) and negative voltage, the proton flux inverted and directed inward. Using electrophysiological measurements of wild-type and mutant GR, we demonstrate that the electrochemical gradient limits outward-directed proton pumping and converts it into a purely passive proton influx. This conclusion contradicts the contemporary paradigm that at low pH, proteorhodopsins actively transport H(+) into cells. We identified E132 and S77 as key residues that allow inward directed diffusion. Substitution of E132 with aspartate or S77 with either alanine or cysteine abolished the inward-directed current almost completely. The proton influx is likely caused by the pK(a) of E132 in GR, which is lower than that of other microbial ion pumping rhodopsins. The advantage of such a low pK(a) is an acceleration of the photocycle and high pump turnover at high light intensities.
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