Unraveling the structural elements of pH sensitivity and substrate binding in the human zinc transporter SLC39A2 (ZIP2)

J Biol Chem. 2019 May 17;294(20):8046-8063. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.006113. Epub 2019 Mar 26.


The transport and ion-coupling mechanisms of ZIP transporters remain largely uncharacterized. Previous work in our laboratory has revealed that the solute carrier family 39 member A2 (SLC39A2/ZIP2) increases its substrate transport rate in the presence of extracellular H+ Here, we used a combination of in silico and in vitro techniques involving structural modeling, mutagenesis, and functional characterization in HEK293 cells to identify amino acid residues potentially relevant for both the ZIP2-H+ interaction and substrate binding. Our ZIP2 models revealed a cluster of charged residues close to the substrate-translocation pore. Interestingly, the H63A substitution completely abrogated pH sensitivity, and substitutions of Glu-67 and Phe-269 altered the pH and voltage modulation of transport. In contrast, substitution of Glu-106, which might be part of a dimerization interface, altered pH but not voltage modulation. Substitution of Phe-269, located close to the substrate-binding site, also affected substrate selectivity. These findings were supported by an additional model of ZIP2 that was based on the structure of a prokaryotic homolog, Bordetella bronchiseptica ZrT/Irt-like protein (bbZIP), and in silico pKa calculations. We also found that residues Glu-179, His-175, His-202, and Glu-276 are directly involved in the coordination of the substrate metal ion. We noted that, unlike bbZIP, human ZIP2 is predicted to harbor a single divalent metal-binding site, with the charged side chain of Lys-203 replacing the second bound ion. Our results provide the first structural evidence for the previously observed pH and voltage modulation of ZIP2-mediated metal transport, identify the substrate-binding site, and suggest a structure-based transport mechanism for the ZIP2 transporter.

Keywords: SLC; ZIP; homology modeling; membrane transport; metal homeostasis; site-directed mutagenesis; structure–function; zinc.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Binding Sites
  • Cation Transport Proteins* / chemistry
  • Cation Transport Proteins* / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins* / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ion Transport
  • Mutation, Missense
  • Zinc* / chemistry
  • Zinc* / metabolism


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • SLC39A2 protein, human
  • Zinc

Associated data

  • PDB/5TSA