Aphid amino acid transporter regulates glutamine supply to intracellular bacterial symbionts

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jan 7;111(1):320-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1306068111. Epub 2013 Dec 23.


Endosymbiotic associations have played a major role in evolution. However, the molecular basis for the biochemical interdependence of these associations remains poorly understood. The aphid-Buchnera endosymbiosis provides a powerful system to elucidate how these symbioses are regulated. In aphids, the supply of essential amino acids depends on an ancient nutritional symbiotic association with the gamma-proteobacterium Buchnera aphidicola. Buchnera cells are densely packed in specialized aphid bacteriocyte cells. Here we confirm that five putative amino acid transporters are highly expressed and/or highly enriched in Acyrthosiphon pisum bacteriocyte tissues. When expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes, two bacteriocyte amino acid transporters displayed significant levels of glutamine uptake, with transporter ACYPI001018, LOC100159667 (named here as Acyrthosiphon pisum glutamine transporter 1, ApGLNT1) functioning as the most active glutamine transporter. Transporter ApGLNT1 has narrow substrate selectivity, with high glutamine and low arginine transport capacity. Notably, ApGLNT1 has high binding affinity for arginine, and arginine acts as a competitive inhibitor for glutamine transport. Using immunocytochemistry, we show that ApGLNT1 is localized predominantly to the bacteriocyte plasma membrane, a location consistent with the transport of glutamine from A. pisum hemolymph to the bacteriocyte cytoplasm. On the basis of functional transport data and localization, we propose a substrate feedback inhibition model in which the accumulation of the essential amino acid arginine in A. pisum hemolymph reduces the transport of the precursor glutamine into bacteriocytes, thereby regulating amino acid biosynthesis in the bacteriocyte. Structural similarities in the arrangement of hosts and symbionts across endosymbiotic systems suggest that substrate feedback inhibition may be mechanistically important in other endosymbioses.

Keywords: amino acid/auxin permease; coevolution; symbiosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Transport Systems / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Aphids / metabolism*
  • Biological Transport
  • Buchnera / metabolism*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cytoplasm / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glutamine / metabolism*
  • Hemolymph / metabolism
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Insect Proteins / metabolism*
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Symbiosis / genetics*
  • Symbiosis / physiology
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Amino Acid Transport Systems
  • Insect Proteins
  • Glutamine