System l-amino acid transporters (LAT) belong to the amino acid, polyamine, and organic cation superfamily of transporters and include the light subunits of heteromeric amino acid transporters and prokaryotic homologues. Cysteine reactivity of SteT (serine/threonine antiporter) has been used here to study the substrate-binding site of LAT transporters. Residue Cys-291, in transmembrane domain 8 (TM8), is inactivated by thiol reagents in a substrate protectable manner. Surprisingly, DTT activated the transporter by reducing residue Cys-291. Cysteine-scanning mutagenesis of TM8 showed DTT activation in the single-cysteine mutants S287C, G294C, and S298C, lining the same alpha-helical face. S-Thiolation in Escherichia coli cells resulted in complete inactivation of the single-cysteine mutant G294C. l-Serine blocked DTT activation with an EC(50) similar to the apparent K(M) of this mutant. Thus, S-thiolation abolished substrate translocation but not substrate binding. Mutation of Lys-295, to Cys (K295C) broadened the profile of inhibitors and the spectrum of substrates with the exception of imino acids. A structural model of SteT based on the structural homologue AdiC (arginine/agmatine antiporter) positions residues Cys-291 and Lys-295 in the putative substrate binding pocket. All this suggests that Lys-295 is a main determinant in the recognition of the side chain of SteT substrates. In contrast, Gly-294 is not facing the surface, suggesting conformational changes involving TM8 during the transport cycle. Our results suggest that TM8 sculpts the substrate-binding site and undergoes conformational changes during the transport cycle of SteT.
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