A single membrane-embedded negative charge is critical for recognizing positively charged drugs by the Escherichia coli multidrug resistance protein MdfA
The nature of the broad substrate specificity phenomenon, as manifested by multidrug resistance proteins, is not yet understood. In the Escherichia coli multidrug transporter, MdfA, the hydrophobicity profile and PhoA fusion analysis have so far identified only one membrane-embedded charged amino acid residue (E26). In order to determine whether this negatively charged residue may play a role in multidrug recognition, we evaluated the expression and function of MdfA constructs mutated at this position. Replacing E26 with the positively charged residue lysine abolished the multidrug resistance activity against positively charged drugs, but retained chloramphenicol efflux and resistance. In contrast, when the negative charge was preserved in a mutant with aspartate instead of E26, chloramphenicol recognition and transport were drastically inhibited; however, the mutant exhibited almost wild-type multidrug resistance activity against lipophilic cations. These results suggest that although the negative charge at position 26 is not essential for active transport, it dictates the multidrug resistance character of MdfA. We show that such a negative charge is also found in other drug resistance transporters, and its possible significance regarding multidrug resistance is discussed.