Comparing 2 crystal structures and 12 AlphaFold2-predicted human membrane glucose transporters and their water-soluble glutamine, threonine

June 13, 2022

QRB Discovery, 3, E5.


 Membrane transporters including glucose transporters (GLUTs) are involved in cellular energy supplies, cell metabolism and other vital biological activities. They have also been implicated in cancer proliferation and metastasis, thus they represent an important target in combatting cancer. However, membrane transporters are very difficult to study due to their multispan transmembrane properties. The new computational tool, AlphaFold2, offers highly accurate predictions of three-dimensional protein structures. The glutamine, threonine and tyrosine (QTY) code provides a systematic method of rendering hydrophobic sequences into hydrophilic ones. Here, we present computational studies of native integral membrane GLUTs with 12 transmembrane helical segments determined by X-ray crystallography and CryoEM, comparing the AlphaFold2-predicted native structure to their water-soluble QTY variants predicted by AlphaFold2. In the native structures of the transmembrane helices, there are hydrophobic amino acids leucine (L), isoleucine (I), valine (V) and phenylalanine (F). Applying the QTY code, these hydrophobic amino acids are systematically replaced by hydrophilic amino acids, glutamine (Q), threonine (T) and tyrosine (Y) rendering them water-soluble. We present the superposed structures of native GLUTs and their water-soluble QTY variants. The superposed structures show remarkable similar residue mean square distance values between 0.47 and 3.6 Å (most about 1–2 Å) despite >44% transmembrane amino acid differences. We also show the differences of hydrophobicity patches between the native membrane transporters and their QTY variants. We explain the rationale why the membrane protein QTY variants become water-soluble. Our study provides insight into the differences between the hydrophobic helices and hydrophilic helices, and offers confirmation of the QTY method for studying multispan transmembrane proteins and other aggregated proteins through their water-soluble variants.

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