Using the crystal structure of the uracil transporter UraA of Escherichia coli, we constructed a 3D model of the Aspergillus nidulans uric acid-xanthine/H(+) symporter UapA, which is a prototype member of the Nucleobase-Ascorbate Transporter (NAT) family. The model consists of 14 transmembrane segments (TMSs) divided into a core and a gate domain, the later being distinctly different from that of UraA. By implementing Molecular Mechanics (MM) simulations and quantitative structure-activity relationship (SAR) approaches, we propose a model for the xanthine-UapA complex where the substrate binding site is formed by the polar side chains of residues E356 (TMS8) and Q408 (TMS10) and the backbones of A407 (TMS10) and F155 (TMS3). In addition, our model shows several polar interactions between TMS1-TMS10, TMS1-TMS3, TMS8-TMS10, which seem critical for UapA transport activity. Using extensive docking calculations we identify a cytoplasm-facing substrate trajectory (D360, A363, G411, T416, R417, V463 and A469) connecting the proposed substrate binding site with the cytoplasm, as well as, a possible outward-facing gate leading towards the substrate major binding site. Most importantly, re-evaluation of the plethora of available and analysis of a number of herein constructed UapA mutations strongly supports the UapA structural model. Furthermore, modeling and docking approaches with mammalian NAT homologues provided a molecular rationale on how specificity in this family of carriers might be determined, and further support the importance of selectivity gates acting independently from the major central substrate binding site.
The recent elucidation of crystal structures of a bacterial member of the NCS1 family, the Mhp1 benzyl-hydantoin permease from Microbacterium liquefaciens, allowed us to construct and validate a three-dimensional model of the Aspergillus nidulans purine-cytosine/H(+) FcyB symporter. The model consists of 12 transmembrane α-helical, segments (TMSs) and cytoplasmic N- and C-tails. A distinct core of 10 TMSs is made of two intertwined inverted repeats (TMS1-5 and TMS6-10) that are followed by two additional TMSs. TMS1, TMS3, TMS6, and TMS8 form an open cavity that is predicted to host the substrate binding site. Based on primary sequence alignment, three-dimensional topology, and substrate docking, we identified five residues as potentially essential for substrate binding in FcyB; Ser-85 (TMS1), Trp-159, Asn-163 (TMS3), Trp-259 (TMS6), and Asn-354 (TMS8). To validate the role of these and other putatively critical residues, we performed a systematic functional analysis of relevant mutants. We show that the proposed substrate binding residues, plus Asn-350, Asn-351, and Pro-353 are irreplaceable for FcyB function. Among these residues, Ser-85, Asn-163, Asn-350, Asn-351, and Asn-354 are critical for determining the substrate binding affinity and/or the specificity of FcyB. Our results suggest that Ser-85, Asn-163, and Asn-354 directly interact with substrates, Trp-159 and Trp-259 stabilize binding through π-π stacking interactions, and Pro-353 affects the local architecture of substrate binding site, whereas Asn-350 and Asn-351 probably affect substrate binding indirectly. Our work is the first systematic approach to address structure-function-specificity relationships in a eukaryotic member of NCS1 family by combining genetic and computational approaches.