A two-lane mechanism for selective biological ammonium transport

Gordon Williamson, Giulia Tamburrino, Adriana Bizior, Mélanie Boeckstaens, Gaëtan Dias Mirandela, Marcus Bage, Andrei Pisliakov, Callum M. Ives, Eilidh Terras, Paul A. Hoskisson, Anna-Maria Marini, Ulrich Zachariae (Lead / Corresponding author), Arnaud Javelle (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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The transport of charged molecules across biological membranes faces the dual problem of accommodating charges in a highly hydrophobic environment while maintaining selective substrate translocation. This has been the subject of a particular controversy for the exchange of ammonium across cellular membranes, an essential process in all domains of life. Ammonium transport is mediated by the ubiquitous Amt/Mep/Rh transporters that includes the human Rhesus factors. Here, using a combination of electrophysiology, yeast functional complementation and extended molecular dynamics simulations, we reveal a unique two-lane pathway for electrogenic NH4+ transport in two archetypal members of the family, the transporters AmtB from Escherichia coli and Rh50 from Nitrosomonas europaea. The pathway underpins a mechanism by which charged H+ and neutral NH3 are carried separately across the membrane after NH4+ deprotonation. This mechanism defines a new principle of achieving transport selectivity against competing ions in a biological transport process.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere57183
Number of pages22
Early online date14 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • E. coli
  • SSME
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • ammonium transporter
  • biochemistry
  • chemical biology
  • nitrosomonas europaea
  • rhesus protein
  • transport selectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology


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