Key computational findings reveal proton transfer as driving the functional cycle in the phosphate transporter PiPT

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Jun 22;118(25):e2101932118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2101932118.


Phosphate is an indispensable metabolite in a wide variety of cells and is involved in nucleotide and lipid synthesis, signaling, and chemical energy storage. Proton-coupled phosphate transporters within the major facilitator family are crucial for phosphate uptake in plants and fungi. Similar proton-coupled phosphate transporters have been found in different protozoan parasites that cause human diseases, in breast cancer cells with elevated phosphate demand, in osteoclast-like cells during bone reabsorption, and in human intestinal Caco2BBE cells for phosphate homeostasis. However, the mechanism of proton-driven phosphate transport remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate in a eukaryotic, high-affinity phosphate transporter from Piriformospora indica (PiPT) that deprotonation of aspartate 324 (D324) triggers phosphate release. Quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics molecular dynamics simulations combined with free energy sampling have been employed here to identify the proton transport pathways from D324 upon the transition from the occluded structure to the inward open structure and phosphate release. The computational insights so gained are then corroborated by studies of D45N and D45E amino acid substitutions via mutagenesis experiments. Our findings confirm the function of the structurally predicted cytosolic proton exit tunnel and suggest insights into the role of the titratable phosphate substrate.

Keywords: major facilitator superfamily; molecular dynamics; phosphate transporter; proton transfer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Basidiomycota / metabolism*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / chemistry
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Mutagenesis
  • Phosphate Transport Proteins / chemistry
  • Phosphate Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Protein Conformation
  • Proton-Motive Force
  • Protons*


  • Fungal Proteins
  • Phosphate Transport Proteins
  • Phosphates
  • Protons

Supplementary concepts

  • Serendipita indica