Excitatory amino acid transporters (EAATs) are essential for terminating glutamatergic synaptic transmission. They are not only coupled glutamate/Na(+)/H(+)/K(+) transporters but also function as anion-selective channels. EAAT anion channels regulate neuronal excitability, and gain-of-function mutations in these proteins result in ataxia and epilepsy. We have combined molecular dynamics simulations with fluorescence spectroscopy of the prokaryotic homolog GltPh and patch-clamp recordings of mammalian EAATs to determine how these transporters conduct anions. Whereas outward- and inward-facing GltPh conformations are nonconductive, lateral movement of the glutamate transport domain from intermediate transporter conformations results in formation of an anion-selective conduction pathway. Fluorescence quenching of inserted tryptophan residues indicated the entry of anions into this pathway, and mutations of homologous pore-forming residues had analogous effects on GltPh simulations and EAAT2/EAAT4 measurements of single-channel currents and anion/cation selectivities. These findings provide a mechanistic framework of how neurotransmitter transporters can operate as anion-selective and ligand-gated ion channels.
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