Membrane lipids play critical roles in the structure and function of membrane-embedded transporters. Salmonella typhimurium MelB (MelBSt) is a symporter coupling melibiose translocation with a cation (Na+, Li+, or H+). We present an extensive study on the effects of specific phospholipids on the structure of MelBSt and the melibiose transport catalyzed by this protein. Lipidomic analysis and thin-layer chromatography (TLC) experiments reveal that at least one phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and one phosphatidylglycerol (PG) molecule associate with MelBSt at high affinities. Solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR) spectroscopy experiments confirmed the presence of lipid tails and glycerol backbones that co-purified with MelBSt; headgroups of PG were also observed. Studies with lipid-engineered strains, including PE-deficient, cardiolipin (CL)- and PG-deficient, or CL-deficient strains, show that lack of PE or PG, however not CL, largely inhibits both H+- and Na+-coupled melibiose active transport to different extents. Interestingly, neither the co-substrate binding (melibiose or Na+) nor MelBSt folding and stability are affected by changing lipid compositions. Remarkably, the delipidated MelBSt with only 2-3 bound lipids, regardless of the headgroup species, also exhibits unchanged melting temperature values as shown by circular dichroism spectroscopy. (1) Lipid tails and glycerol backbones of interacting PE and PG may contribute to the stability of the structure of MelBSt. (2) The headgroups of PE and PG, but not of CL, play important roles in melibiose transport; however, lipid headgroups do not modulate the folding and stability of MelBSt.
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