The crystallizations of the prokaryotic LeuT and of the eukaryotic DAT and SERT transporters represent important steps forward in the comprehension of the molecular physiology of Neurotransmitter:Sodium Symporters, although the molecular determinants of the coupling mechanism and of ion selectivity still remain to be fully elucidated. The insect NSS homologue KAAT1 exhibits unusual physiological features, such as the ability to use K+ as the driver ion, weak chloride dependence, and the ability of the driver ion to influence the substrate selectivity; these characteristics can help to define the molecular determinants of NSS function. Two non-conserved residues are present in the putative sodium binding sites of KAAT1: Ala 66, corresponding to Gly 20 in the Na2 site of LeuT, and Ser 68, corresponding to Ala 22 in the Na1 site. Thr 67 appears also to be significant since it is not conserved among NSS members, is present as threonine only in KAAT1 and in the paralogue CAATCH1 and, according to LeuT structure, is close to the amino acid binding site. Mutants of these residues were functionally characterized in Xenopus oocytes. The T67Y mutant exhibited uptake activity comparable to that of the wild type, but fully chloride-independent and with enhanced stereoselectivity. Interestingly, although dependent on the presence of sodium, the mutant showed reduced transport-associated currents, indicating uncoupling of the driver ion and amino acid fluxes. Thr 67 therefore appears to be a key component in the coupling mechanism, participating in a network that influences the cotransport of Na+ and the amino acid.
Keywords: Amino acid uptake; Homology model; Ion selectivity; NSS family; Structure-function analysis, coupling mechanism; Xenopus laevis oocytes.