Antimicrobial resistance of human pathogenic bacteria is an emerging problem for global public health. This resistance is often associated with the overproduction of membrane transport proteins that are capable to pump chemotherapeutics, antibiotics, detergents, dyes and organic solvents out of the cell. In Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, tripartite multidrug efflux systems extrude a large variety of cytotoxic substances from the cell membrane directly into the medium bypassing the periplasm and the outer membrane. In E. coli, the tripartite efflux system AcrA/AcrB/TolC is the pump in charge of the efflux of multiple antibiotics, dyes, bile salts and detergents. The trimeric outer membrane factor (OMF) TolC forms a β-barrel pore in the outer membrane and exhibits a long periplasmic β-helical conduit. The periplasmic membrane fusion protein (MFP) AcrA serves as a linker between TolC and the trimeric resistance nodulation cell division (RND) pump AcrB, located in the inner membrane acting as a proton/drug antiporter. The newly elucidated asymmetric structure of trimeric AcrB reveals three different monomer conformations representing consecutive states in a transport cycle. The monomers show tunnels with occlusions at different sites leading from the lateral side through the periplasmic porter (pore) domains towards the funnel of the trimer and TolC. The structural changes create a hydrophobic pocket in one monomer, which is not present in the other two monomers. Minocyclin and doxorubicin, both AcrB substrates, specifically bind to this pocket substantiating its role as drug binding pocket. The energy transduction from the proton motive force into drug efflux includes proton binding in (and release from) the transmembrane part. The conformational changes observed within a triad of essential, titratable residues (Asp407/Asp408/Lys940) residing in the hydrophobic transmembrane domain appear to be transduced by transmembrane helix 8 and associated with the conformational changes seen in the periplasmic domain. From the asymmetric structure a possible peristaltic pump transport mechanism based on a functional rotation of the AcrB trimer has been postulated. The novel transport model merges Jardetzkys alternate access pump mechanism with the rotating site catalysis of F1Fo ATPase and suggests a working hypothesis for the transport mechanism of RND transporters in general.
Keywords: AcrB Efflux Pump, Antimicrobial resistance, human pathogenic bacteria, antibiotics, detergents, Gram-negative bacteria, trimeric outer membrane factor (OMF), The periplasmic membrane fusion protein (MFP), conformational, asymmetric structure