Three strategically placed hydrogen-bonding residues convert a proton pump into a sensory receptor

Yuki Sudo, John L. Spudich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)


In haloarchaea, light-driven ion transporters have been modified by evolution to produce sensory receptors that relay light signals to transducer proteins controlling motility behavior. The proton pump bacteriorhodopsin and the phototaxis receptor sensory rhodopsin II (SRII) differ by 74% of their residues, with nearly all conserved residues within the photoreactive retinal-binding pocket in the membrane-embedded center of the proteins. Here, we show that three residues in bacteriorhodopsin replaced by the corresponding residues in SRII enable bacteriorhodopsin to efficiently relay the retinal photoisomerization signal to the SRII integral membrane transducer (HtrII) and induce robust phototaxis responses. A single replacement (Ala-215-Thr), bridging the retinal and the membrane-embedded surface, confers weak phototaxis signaling activity, and the additional two (surface substitutions Pro-200-Thr and Val-210-Tyr), expected to align bacteriorhodopsin and HtrII in similar juxtaposition as SRII and HtrII, greatly enhance the signaling. In SRII, the three residues form a chain of hydrogen bonds from the retinal's photoisomerized C13=C14 double bond to residues in the membrane-embedded α-helices of HtrII. The results suggest a chemical mechanism for signaling that entails initial storage of energy of photoisomerization in SRII's hydrogen bond between Tyr-174, which is in contact with the retinal, and Thr-204, which borders residues on the SRII surface in contact with HtrII, followed by transfer of this chemical energy to drive structural transitions in the transducer helices. The results demonstrate that evolution accomplished an elegant but simple conversion: The essential differences between transport and signaling proteins in the rhodopsin family are far less than previously imagined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16129-16134
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - Oct 31 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacteriorhodopsin
  • Phototaxis
  • Retinal
  • Sensory rhodopsin
  • Transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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