Zinc binding alters the conformational dynamics and drives the transport cycle of the cation diffusion facilitator YiiP

J Gen Physiol. 2021 Aug 2;153(8):e202112873. doi: 10.1085/jgp.202112873. Epub 2021 Jul 13.


YiiP is a secondary transporter that couples Zn2+ transport to the proton motive force. Structural studies of YiiP from prokaryotes and Znt8 from humans have revealed three different Zn2+ sites and a conserved homodimeric architecture. These structures define the inward-facing and outward-facing states that characterize the archetypal alternating access mechanism of transport. To study the effects of Zn2+ binding on the conformational transition, we use cryo-EM together with molecular dynamics simulation to compare structures of YiiP from Shewanella oneidensis in the presence and absence of Zn2+. To enable single-particle cryo-EM, we used a phage-display library to develop a Fab antibody fragment with high affinity for YiiP, thus producing a YiiP/Fab complex. To perform MD simulations, we developed a nonbonded dummy model for Zn2+ and validated its performance with known Zn2+-binding proteins. Using these tools, we find that, in the presence of Zn2+, YiiP adopts an inward-facing conformation consistent with that previously seen in tubular crystals. After removal of Zn2+ with high-affinity chelators, YiiP exhibits enhanced flexibility and adopts a novel conformation that appears to be intermediate between inward-facing and outward-facing states. This conformation involves closure of a hydrophobic gate that has been postulated to control access to the primary transport site. Comparison of several independent cryo-EM maps suggests that the transition from the inward-facing state is controlled by occupancy of a secondary Zn2+ site at the cytoplasmic membrane interface. This work enhances our understanding of individual Zn2+ binding sites and their role in the conformational dynamics that govern the transport cycle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Cations
  • Chelating Agents
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Protein Conformation
  • Shewanella
  • Zinc*


  • Cations
  • Chelating Agents
  • Zinc

Supplementary concepts

  • Shewanella oneidensis