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Crystal structures of translocator protein (TSPO) and mutant mimic of a human polymorphism

Science  30 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6221, pp. 555-558
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260590

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Structural clues to protein function

Translocator protein (TSPO) is a mitochondrial membrane protein thought to transport cholesterol and porphyrins. Its detailed function remains unclear, but interest in it is high because TSPO is involved in a variety of human diseases. Two papers now present crystal structures of bacterial TSPOs. Li et al. show that a mutant that mimics a human single polymorphism associated with psychiatric disorders has structural changes in a region implicated in cholesterol binding. Guo et al. suggest that TSPO may be more than a transporter. They show how it catalyzes the degradation of porphyrins, a function that could be important in protection against oxidative stress.

Science, this issue p. 555, p. 551

Abstract

The 18-kilodalton translocator protein (TSPO), proposed to be a key player in cholesterol transport into mitochondria, is highly expressed in steroidogenic tissues, metastatic cancer, and inflammatory and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. TSPO ligands, including benzodiazepine drugs, are implicated in regulating apoptosis and are extensively used in diagnostic imaging. We report crystal structures (at 1.8, 2.4, and 2.5 angstrom resolution) of TSPO from Rhodobacter sphaeroides and a mutant that mimics the human Ala147→Thr147 polymorphism associated with psychiatric disorders and reduced pregnenolone production. Crystals obtained in the lipidic cubic phase reveal the binding site of an endogenous porphyrin ligand and conformational effects of the mutation. The three crystal structures show the same tightly interacting dimer and provide insights into the controversial physiological role of TSPO and how the mutation affects cholesterol binding.

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