Asymmetry of inverted-topology repeats in the AE1 anion exchanger suggests an elevator-like mechanism

J Gen Physiol. 2017 Dec 4;149(12):1149-1164. doi: 10.1085/jgp.201711836. Epub 2017 Nov 22.


The membrane transporter anion exchanger 1 (AE1), or band 3, is a key component in the processes of carbon-dioxide transport in the blood and urinary acidification in the renal collecting duct. In both erythrocytes and the basolateral membrane of the collecting-duct α-intercalated cells, the role of AE1 is to catalyze a one-for-one exchange of chloride for bicarbonate. After decades of biochemical and functional studies, the structure of the transmembrane region of AE1, which catalyzes the anion-exchange reaction, has finally been determined. Each protomer of the AE1 dimer comprises two repeats with inverted transmembrane topologies, but the structures of these repeats differ. This asymmetry causes the putative substrate-binding site to be exposed only to the extracellular space, consistent with the expectation that anion exchange occurs via an alternating-access mechanism. Here, we hypothesize that the unknown, inward-facing conformation results from inversion of this asymmetry, and we propose a model of this state constructed using repeat-swap homology modeling. By comparing this inward-facing model with the outward-facing experimental structure, we predict that the mechanism of AE1 involves an elevator-like motion of the substrate-binding domain relative to the nearly stationary dimerization domain and to the membrane plane. This hypothesis is in qualitative agreement with a wide range of biochemical and functional data, which we review in detail, and suggests new avenues of experimentation.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte / chemistry*
  • Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating*
  • Protein Domains
  • Protein Multimerization


  • Anion Exchange Protein 1, Erythrocyte

Associated data

  • PDB/4YZF