Conventionally, most amino acid substitutions at "important" protein positions are expected to abolish function. However, in several soluble-globular proteins, we identified a class of nonconserved positions for which various substitutions produced progressive functional changes; we consider these evolutionary "rheostats". Here, we report a strong rheostat position in the integral membrane protein, Na+/taurocholate (TCA) cotransporting polypeptide, at the site of a pharmacologically relevant polymorphism (S267F). Functional studies were performed for all 20 substitutions (S267X) with three substrates (TCA, estrone-3-sulfate, and rosuvastatin). The S267X set showed strong rheostatic effects on overall transport, and individual substitutions showed varied effects on transport kinetics (Km and Vmax) and substrate specificity. To assess protein stability, we measured surface expression and used the Rosetta software (https://www.rosettacommons.org) suite to model structure and stability changes of S267X. Although buried near the substrate-binding site, S267X substitutions were easily accommodated in the Na+/TCA cotransporting polypeptide structure model. Across the modest range of changes, calculated stabilities correlated with surface-expression differences, but neither parameter correlated with altered transport. Thus, substitutions at rheostat position 267 had wide-ranging effects on the phenotype of this integral membrane protein. We further propose that polymorphic positions in other proteins might be locations of rheostat positions.
Keywords: bile acid transport; drug transport; hepatocyte; liver; protein stability; single nucleotide polymorphism.
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