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Proton-driven alternating access in a spinster transporter, an emerging family of broad-specificity efflux pumps


Spinster (Spns) lipid transporters are critical for transporting sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) across cellular membranes. In humans, Spns2 functions as the main S1P transporter in endothelial cells, making it a potential drug target for modulating S1P signaling. We employed an integrated approach in lipid membranes to identify unknown conformational states of a bacterial Spns from Hyphomonas neptunium (HnSpns) and to define its proton- and substrate-coupled conformational dynamics. Our systematic study reveals conserved residues critical for protonation steps and their regulation, and how sequential protonation of these proton switches coordinates the conformational transitions in the context of a noncanonical ligand-dependent alternating access. A conserved periplasmic salt bridge (Asp60TM2:Arg289TM7) keeps the transporter in a closed conformation, while proton-dependent conformational dynamics are significantly enhanced on the periplasmic side, providing a pathway for ligand exchange. Furthermore, our resistance assays reveal substrate polyspecificity and HnSpns multidrug resistance (MDR) activity that underscore the previously unknown role of Spns proteins in MDR, beyond their activity in sphingolipid transport and signaling.