Recognition of multiple drugs by a single protein: a trivial solution of an old paradox.
Multidrug-efflux transporters recognize scores of structurally dissimilar toxic compounds and expel them from cells. The broad chemical specificity of these transporters challenges some of the basic dogmas of biochemistry and remains unexplained. To understand, at least in principle, how a protein can recognize multiple compounds, we analysed the transcriptional regulator of the Bacillus subtilis multidrug transporter Bmr. This regulator, BmrR, binds multiple dissimilar hydrophobic cations and, by activating the expression of the Bmr transporter, causes their expulsion from the cell. Crystallographic analysis of the complexes of the inducer-binding domain of BmrR with some of its inducers revealed that ligands cause disordering of the surface alpha-helix and penetrate the hydrophobic core of the protein, where they form multiple van der Waals and stacking interactions with hydrophobic amino acids and an electrostatic bond with the buried glutamic residue. Mutational analysis of the binding site suggests that each ligand forms a unique set of atomic contacts with the protein: each tested mutation exerted disparate effects on the binding of different ligands. The example of BmrR demonstrates that a protein can bind multiple compounds with micromolar affinities by using only electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions. Its ligand specificity can be broadened by the flexibility of the binding site. It therefore seems that the commonly expressed fascination with the broad specificity of multidrug transporters is misdirected and originates from an almost exclusive familiarity with the more sophisticated processes of specific molecular recognition that predominate among existing proteins.
Vazquez-Laslop, N; Zheleznova, EE; Markham, PN; Brennan, RG; Neyfakh, AA
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