The cellular biology of proton-motive force generation by V-ATPases

Nathan Nelson*, Natalie Perzov, Adiel Cohen, Keren Hagai, Vered Padler, Hannah Nelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Scopus citations


The vacuolar H+-ATPase (V-ATPase) is one of the most fundamental enzymes in nature. It functions in almost every eukaryotic cell and energizes a wide variety of organelles and membranes. In contrast to F-ATPases, whose primary function in eukaryotic cells is to form ATP at the expense of the proton-motive force, V-ATPases function exclusively as ATP-dependent proton pumps. The proton-motive force generated by V-ATPases in organelles and across plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells is utilized as a driving force for numerous secondary transport processes. The enzyme is also vital for the proper functioning of endosomes and the Golgi apparatus. In contrast to yeast vacuoles, which maintain an internal pH of approximately 5.5, it is believed that the vacuoles of lemon fruit may have a pH as low as 2. Similarly, some brown and red algae maintain an internal pH as low as 1 in their vacuoles. It was yeast genetics that allowed the identification of the special properties of individual subunits and the discovery of the factors that are involved in V-ATPase biogenesis and assembly. Null mutations in genes encoding V-ATPase subunits of Saccharomyces cerevisiae result in a phenotype that is unable to grow at high pH and is sensitive to high and low metal-ion concentrations. Treatment of these null mutants with ethyl methanesulphonate causes mutations that suppress the V-ATPase null phenotype, and these cells are able to grow at pH7.5. The suppressor mutants were denoted as svf (Suppressor of V-ATPase Function). The svf mutations are recessive: crossing the svf mutants with their corresponding V-ATPase null mutants resulted in diploid strains that were not able to grow at pH7.5. A novel gene family in which null mutations cause pleiotropic effects on metal-ion resistance or on the sensitivity and distribution of membrane proteins in different targets was discovered. We termed this gene family VTC (Vacuolar Transporter Chaperon) and discovered four genes in S. cerevisiae that belong to the family. Inactivation of one of them, VTC1, in the background of V-ATPase null mutations resulted in an svf phenotype that was able to grow at pH 7.5. Apparently, Vtc1p is one of a few membrane organizers that determine the relative amounts of different membrane proteins in the various cellular membranes. We utilize the numerous yeast mutants generated in our laboratory to identify the specific organelle whose acidification is vital. The interaction between V-ATPase and the secretory pathway is investigated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000


  • Assembly
  • Chaperon
  • Proton slip
  • Proton-motive force
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae
  • V-ATPase
  • Vacuolar acidification
  • Yeast


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