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NMR Detection of pH-Dependent Histidine–Water Proton Exchange Reveals the Conduction Mechanism of a Transmembrane Proton Channel

Hu, Fanghao, Schmidt-Rohr, Klaus, Hong, Mei
Journal of the American Chemical Society 2012 v.134 no.8 pp. 3703-3713
antiviral agents, histidine, hydrogen bonding, influenza, models, nitrogen, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, pH, stable isotopes, temperature, viruses
The acid-activated proton channel formed by the influenza M2 protein is important for the life cycle of the virus. A single histidine, His37, in the M2 transmembrane domain (M2TM) is responsible for pH activation and proton selectivity of the channel. Recent studies suggested three models for how His37 mediates proton transport: a shuttle mechanism involving His37 protonation and deprotonation, a H-bonded imidazole–imidazolium dimer model, and a transporter model involving large protein conformational changes in synchrony with proton conduction. Using magic-angle-spinning (MAS) solid-state NMR spectroscopy, we examined the proton exchange and backbone conformational dynamics of M2TM in a virus-envelope-mimetic membrane. At physiological temperature and pH, ¹⁵N NMR spectra show fast exchange of the imidazole ¹⁵N between protonated and unprotonated states. To quantify the proton exchange rates, we measured the ¹⁵N T₂ relaxation times and simulated them for chemical-shift exchange and fluctuating N–H dipolar fields under ¹H decoupling and MAS. The exchange rate is 4.5 × 10⁵ s–¹ for Nδ1 and 1.0 × 10⁵ s–¹ for Nε2, which are approximately synchronized with the recently reported imidazole reorientation. Binding of the antiviral drug amantadine suppressed both proton exchange and ring motion, thus interfering with the proton transfer mechanism. By measuring the relative concentrations of neutral and cationic His as a function of pH, we determined the four pKₐ values of the His37 tetrad in the viral membrane. Fitting the proton current curve using the charge-state populations from these pKₐ’s, we obtained the relative conductance of the five charge states, which showed that the +3 channel has the highest time-averaged unitary conductance. At physiologically relevant pH, 2D correlation spectra indicated that the neutral and cationic histidines do not have close contacts, ruling out the H-bonded dimer model. Moreover, a narrowly distributed nonideal helical structure coexists with a broadly distributed ideal helical conformation without interchange on the sub-10 ms time scale, thus excluding the transporter model in the viral membrane. These data support the shuttle mechanism of proton conduction, whose essential steps involve His–water proton exchange facilitated by imidazole ring reorientations.