Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
A prominent aqueous cavity is formed by the junction of three identical subunits in the excitatory amino acid transporter (EAAT) family. To investigate the effect of this structure on the interaction of ligands with the transporter, we recorded currents in voltage-clamped Xenopus oocytes expressing EAATs and used concentration jumps to measure binding and unbinding rates of a high-affinity aspartate analog that competitively blocks transport (β-2-fluorenyl-aspartylamide; 2-FAA). The binding rates of the blocker were approximately one order of magnitude slower than l-Glu and were not significantly different for EAAT1, EAAT2, or EAAT3, but 2-FAA exhibited higher affinity for the neuronal transporter EAAT3 as a result of a slower dissociation rate. Unexpectedly, the rate of recovery from block was increased by l-Glu in a saturable and concentration-dependent manner, ruling out a first-order mechanism and suggesting that following unbinding, there is a significant probability of ligand rebinding to the same or neighboring subunits within a trimer. Consistent with such a mechanism, coexpression of wild-type subunits with mutant (R447C) subunits that do not bind glutamate or 2-FAA also increased the unblocking rate. The data suggest that electrostatic and steric factors result in an effective dissociation rate that is approximately sevenfold slower than the microscopic subunit unbinding rate. The quaternary structure, which has been conserved through evolution, is expected to increase the transporters' capture efficiency by increasing the probability that following unbinding, a ligand will rebind as opposed to being lost to diffusion.
© 2019 National Academy of Sciences