AlaE is the smallest amino acid exporter identified in Escherichia coli. It exports l-alanine using the proton motive force and plays a pivotal role in maintaining intracellular l-alanine homeostasis by acting as a safety valve. However, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of substrate export by AlaE is still limited because structural information is lacking. Due to its small size (149 amino acid residues), it has been speculated that AlaE functions by forming an oligomer. In this study, we performed chemical cross-linking and pull-down assays and showed that AlaE indeed generates homo-oligomers as a functional unit. Previous random mutagenesis experiments identified three loss-of-function AlaE point mutations in the predicted trans-membrane helix 4 (TM4) region, two of which are present in the GxxxG motif. When alanine-scanning mutagenesis was applied to the TM4 region, the AlaE derivatives that had amino acid substitutions around the GxxxG motif showed low l-alanine export activities, indicating that the GxxxG motif in TM4 plays an important role in substrate export. However, these AlaE variants with low activity could still form oligomers. We therefore concluded that AlaE forms homo-oligomers and that the GxxxG motif in the TM4 region plays an essential role in AlaE activity but is not involved in AlaE oligomer formation.
- GxxxG motif
- amino acid exporter