In Vitro Demonstration of Dual Light-Driven Na⁺/H⁺ Pumping by a Microbial Rhodopsin

Biophys J. 2015 Oct 6;109(7):1446-53. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2015.08.018.


A subfamily of rhodopsin pigments was recently discovered in bacteria and proposed to function as dual-function light-driven H(+)/Na(+) pumps, ejecting sodium ions from cells in the presence of sodium and protons in its absence. This proposal was based primarily on light-induced proton flux measurements in suspensions of Escherichia coli cells expressing the pigments. However, because E. coli cells contain numerous proteins that mediate proton fluxes, indirect effects on proton movements involving endogenous bioenergetics components could not be excluded. Therefore, an in vitro system consisting of the purified pigment in the absence of other proteins was needed to assign the putative Na(+) and H(+) transport definitively. We expressed IAR, an uncharacterized member from Indibacter alkaliphilus in E. coli cell suspensions, and observed similar ion fluxes as reported for KR2 from Dokdonia eikasta. We purified and reconstituted IAR into large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs), and demonstrated the proton flux criteria of light-dependent electrogenic Na(+) pumping activity in vitro, namely, light-induced passive proton flux enhanced by protonophore. The proton flux was out of the LUV lumen, increasing lumenal pH. In contrast, illumination of the LUVs in a Na(+)-free suspension medium caused a decrease of lumenal pH, eliminated by protonophore. These results meet the criteria for electrogenic Na(+) transport and electrogenic H(+) transport, respectively, in the presence and absence of Na(+). The direction of proton fluxes indicated that IAR was inserted inside-out into our sealed LUV system, which we confirmed by site-directed spin-label electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. We further demonstrate that Na(+) transport by IAR requires Na(+) only on the cytoplasmic side of the protein. The in vitro LUV system proves that the dual light-driven H(+)/Na(+) pumping function of IAR is intrinsic to the single rhodopsin protein and enables study of the transport activities without perturbation by bioenergetics ion fluxes encountered in vivo.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Escherichia coli
  • Hydrogen / metabolism
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lasers
  • Light*
  • Photolysis
  • Protons*
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial / metabolism*
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial / radiation effects*
  • Sodium / metabolism*
  • Spectrum Analysis
  • Unilamellar Liposomes


  • Protons
  • Rhodopsins, Microbial
  • Unilamellar Liposomes
  • Hydrogen
  • Sodium