Active translocation of ions across membranes requires alternating access of the ion binding site inside the pump to the two membrane surfaces. Proton translocation by bacteriorhodopsin (bR), the light-driven proton pump in Halobacterium salinarium, involves this kind of a change in the accessibility of the centrally located retinal Schiff base. This key event in bR's photocycle ensures that proton release occurs to the extracellular side and proton uptake from the cytoplasmic side. To study the role of protein conformational changes in this reprotonation switch, spin labels were attached to pairs of engineered cysteine residues in the cytoplasmic interhelical loops of bR. Light-induced changes in the distance between a spin label on the EF interhelical loop and a label on either the AB or the CD interhelical loop were observed, and the changes were monitored following photoactivation with time-resolved electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. Both distances increase transiently by about 5 A during the photocycle. This opening occurs between proton release and uptake, and may be the conformational switch that changes the accessibility of the retinal Schiff base to the cytoplasmic surface after proton release to the extracellular side.
Copyright 1997 Academic Press Limited.