A short cross-linker activates human P-glycoprotein missing a catalytic carboxylate
P-glycoprotein (P-gp) is an ATP-dependent drug pump that protects us from toxic agents and confers multidrug resistance. It has a tweezer-like structure with each arm consisting of a transmembrane domain (TMD) and a nucleotide-binding domain (NBD). Drug substrates bind to sites within the TMDs to activate ATPase activity by promoting a tweezer-like closing of the gap between the NBDs. The catalytic carboxylates may be critical for NBD movements because the E556Q(NBD1) or E1201Q(NBD2) mutation inhibited drug-stimulated ATPase activity. If the catalytic carboxylates were components of the mechanism to bring the NBDs together, then we predicted that insertion of a flexible cross-linker between the arms would increase ATPase activity of the mutants. We found that cross-linking (between L175C(TMD1) and N820C(TMD2)) with a short flexible cross-linker (7.8 Å maximum) restored high levels of drug-stimulated ATPase activity of the E556Q or E1201Q mutants. Cross-linking with a longer cross-linker (22 Å maximum) however, did not restore activity. Cross-linking could not rescue all ATPase deficient mutants. For example, cross-linking L175C/N820C with short or long cross-linkers did not activate the H-loop mutants H587A or H1232A or the Walker A K433M or K1076M mutants. The results suggest that the E556 and E1201 catalytic carboxylates are part of a spring-like mechanism that is required to facilitate movements between the open and closed conformations of P-gp during ATP hydrolysis.