A reciprocating twin-channel model for ABC transporters

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Journal Article
Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics, 2014, 47 (3), pp. 189 - 220
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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014. ABC transporters comprise a large, diverse, and ubiquitous superfamily of membrane active transporters. Their core architecture is a dimer of dimers, comprising two transmembrane (TM) domains that bind substrate, and two ATP-binding cassettes, which use the cell's energy currency to couple substrate translocation to ATP hydrolysis. Despite the availability of over a dozen resolved structures and a wealth of biochemical and biophysical data, this field is bedeviled by controversy and long-standing mechanistic questions remain unresolved. The prevailing paradigm for the ABC transport mechanism is the Switch Model, in which the ATP-binding cassettes dimerize upon binding two ATP molecules, and thence dissociate upon sequential ATP hydrolysis. This cycle of nucleotide-binding domain (NBD) dimerization and dissociation is coupled to a switch between inward- or outward facing conformations of a single TM channel; this alternating access enables substrate binding on one face of the membrane and its release at the other. Notwithstanding widespread acceptance of the Switch Model, there is substantial evidence that the NBDs do not separate very much, if at all, and thus physical separation of the ATP cassettes observed in crystallographic structures may be an artefact. An alternative Constant Contact Model has been proposed, in which ATP hydrolysis occurs alternately at the two ATP-binding sites, with one of the sites remaining closed and containing occluded nucleotide at all times. In this model, the cassettes remain in contact and the active sites swing open in an alternately seesawing motion. Whilst the concept of NBD association/dissociation in the Switch Model is naturally compatible with a single alternating-access channel, the asymmetric functioning proposed by the Constant Contact model suggests an alternating or reciprocating function in the TMDs. Here, a new model for the function of ABC transporters is proposed in which the sequence of ATP binding, hydrolysis, and product release in each active site is directly coupled to the analogous sequence of substrate binding, translocation and release in one of two functionally separate substrate translocation pathways. Each translocation pathway functions 180° out of phase. A wide and diverse selection of data for both ABC importers and exporters is examined, and the ability of the Switch and Reciprocating Models to explain the data is compared and contrasted. This analysis shows that not only can the Reciprocating Model readily explain the data; it also suggests straightforward explanations for the function of a number of atypical ABC transporters. This study represents the most coherent and complete attempt at an all-encompassing scheme to explain how these important proteins work, one that is consistent with sound biochemical and biophysical evidence.
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