The proton-coupled folate transporter (PCFT; SLC46A1) is a folate–proton symporter expressed in solid tumors and is used for tumor-targeted delivery of cytotoxic antifolates. Topology modeling suggests that the PCFT secondary structure includes 12 transmembrane domains (TMDs) with TMDs 6 and 7 linked by an intracellular loop (positions 236–265) including His247, implicated as functionally important. Single-cysteine (Cys) mutants were inserted from positions 241 to 251 in Cys-less PCFT and mutant proteins were expressed in PCFT-null (R1-11) HeLa cells; none were reactive with 2-aminoethyl methanethiosulfonate biotin, suggesting that the TMD6–7 loop is intracellular. Twenty-nine single alanine mutants spanning the entire TMD6–7 loop were expressed in R1-11 cells; activity was generally preserved, with the exception of the 247, 250, and 251 mutants, partly due to decreased surface expression. Coexpression of PCFT TMD1–6 and TMD7–12 half-molecules in R1-11 cells partially restored transport activity, although removal of residues 252–265 from TMD7–12 abolished transport. Chimeric proteins, including a nonhomologous sequence from a thiamine transporter (ThTr1) inserted into the PCFT TMD6–7 loop (positions 236–250 or 251–265), were active, although replacement of the entire loop with the ThTr1 sequence resulted in substantial loss of activity. Amino acid replacements (Ala, Arg, His, Gln, and Glu) or deletions at position 247 in wild-type and PCFT–ThTr1 chimeras resulted in differential effects on transport. Collectively, our findings suggest that the PCFT TMD6–7 connecting loop confers protein stability and may serve a unique functional role that depends on secondary structure rather than particular sequence elements.
- © 2016 The Author(s); published by Portland Press Limited on behalf of the Biochemical Society