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The formate channel FocA exports the products of mixed-acid fermentation

Lü, Wei, Du, Juan, Schwarzer, Nikola J., Gerbig-Smentek, Elke, Einsle, Oliver, Andrade, Susana L. A.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2012 v.109 no.33 pp. 13254-13259
Salmonella Typhimurium, acetates, anions, cations, cell membranes, electrophysiology, fermentation, formates, glucose, ion channels, metabolites, nitrites, protein subunits, protein transport, pyruvic acid
Formate is a major metabolite in the anaerobic fermentation of glucose by many enterobacteria. It is translocated across cellular membranes by the pentameric ion channel/transporter FocA that, together with the nitrite channel NirC, forms the formate/nitrite transporter (FNT) family of membrane transport proteins. Here we have carried out an electrophysiological analysis of FocA from Salmonella typhimurium to characterize the channel properties and assess its specificity toward formate and other possible permeating ions. Single-channel currents for formate, hypophosphite and nitrite revealed two mechanistically distinct modes of gating that reflect different types of structural rearrangements in the transport channel of each FocA protomer. Moreover, FocA did not conduct cations or divalent anions, but the chloride anion was identified as further transported species, along with acetate, lactate and pyruvate. Formate, acetate and lactate are major end products of anaerobic mixed-acid fermentation, the pathway where FocA is predominantly required, so that this channel is ideally adapted to act as a multifunctional export protein to prevent their intracellular accumulation. Because of the high degree of conservation in the residues forming the transport channel among FNT family members, the flexibility in conducting multiple molecules is most likely a general feature of these proteins.