Leishmania amazonensis LIT1 was identified based on homology with IRT1, a ferrous iron transporter from Arabidopsis thaliana. Δlit1 L. amazonensis are defective in intracellular replication and lesion formation in vivo, a virulence phenotype attributed to defective intracellular iron acquisition. Here we functionally characterize LIT1, directly demonstrating that it functions as a ferrous iron membrane transporter from the ZIP family. Conserved residues in the predicted transmembrane domains II, IV, V and VII of LIT1 are essential for iron transport in yeast, including histidines that were proposed to function as metal ligands in ZIP transporters. LIT1 also contains two regions within the predicted intracellular loop that are not found in Arabidopsis IRT1. Deletion of region I inhibited LIT1 expression on the surface of Leishmania promastigotes. Deletion of region II did not interfere with LIT1 trafficking to the surface, but abolished its iron transport capacity when expressed in yeast. Mutagenesis revealed two motifs within region II, HGHQH and TPPRDM, that are independently required for iron transport by LIT1. D263 was identified as a key residue required for iron transport within the TPPRDM motif, while P260 and P261 were dispensable. Deletion of proline-rich regions within region I and between regions I and II did not affect iron transport in yeast, but in L. amazonensis were not able to rescue the intracellular growth of Δlit1 parasites, or their ability to form lesions in mice. These results are consistent with a potential role of the unique intracellular loop of LIT1 in intracellular regulation by Leishmania-specific factors. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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