A brief historical perspective
Thirteen years ago The Journal of Experimental Biology
dedicated an entire volume to V-ATPases, providing a
permanent record of the proceedings of a symposium held in
Telluride, Colorado in June 1992 (Harvey and Nelson, 1992).
On first inspection, the absence of a prologue on the history of
V-ATPases suggests a casual omission. On reflection, nearly
every investigator who had made first observations of what
eventually turned out as the V-ATPase had come to Telluride,
and a historically perspective may have seemed too early and
less exciting than the science each had come to report. Efraim
Racker, who was to have been the keynote speaker, would have
offered at least some anecdotes. But his passing away in
September 1991 was a loss, and not to this symposium alone.
Today, a historical perspective seems timely and
appropriate. Accordingly, we begin these pages with our
attempt to review the history of the V-ATPase as we see it, and
with an apology to all those who have not been mentioned and
V-type H+ATPases, also known as H+V-ATPases and V-
ATPases, were not discovered in a single ‘Eureka’ experiment;
they were gradually uncovered independently in various
It was nearly 30 years before the V-type H+ ATPase was
admitted to the small circle of bona fide transport ATPases
alongside F-type and P-type ATPases. The V-type H+
ATPase is an ATP-driven enzyme that transforms the
energy of ATP hydrolysis to electrochemical potential
differences of protons
membranes via the primary active transport of H+. In
turn, the transmembrane electrochemical potential of H+
is used to drive a variety of (i) secondary active transport
systems via H+-dependent symporters and antiporters and
(ii) channel-mediated transport systems. For example,
expression of Cl–channels or transporters next to the V-
type H+ATPase in vacuoles of plants and fungi and in
lysosomes of animals brings about the acidification of the
endosomal compartment, and the expression of the
H+/neurotransmitter antiporter next to the V-type H+
ATPase concentrates neurotransmitters in synaptic
First found in association with endosomal membranes,
the V-type H+ ATPase is now also found in increasing
examples of plasma membranes where the proton pump
energizes transport across cell membranes and entire
epithelia. The molecular details reveal up to 14 protein
subunits arranged in (i) a cytoplasmic V1complex, which
across diverse biological
mediates the hydrolysis of ATP, and (ii) a membrane-
embedded V0complex, which translocates H+across the
membrane. Clever experiments have revealed the V-type
H+ ATPase as a molecular motor akin to F-type ATPases.
The hydrolysis of ATP turns a rotor consisting largely of
one copy of subunits D and F of the V1complex and a ring
of six or more copies of subunit c of the V0complex. The
rotation of the ring is thought to deliver H+from the
cytoplasmic to the endosomal or extracellular side of the
membrane, probably via channels formed by subunit a.
The reversible dissociation of V1and V0complexes is one
mechanism of physiological regulation that appears to be
widely conserved from yeast to animal cells. Other
mechanisms, such as subunit–subunit interactions or
interactions of the V-type H+ ATPase with other proteins
that serve physiological regulation, remain to be explored.
Some diseases can now be attributed to genetic alterations
of specific subunits of the V-type H+ATPase.
Key words: proton pump, molecular motor, V0complex, V1complex,
subunit, endosomal membrane, plasma membrane, primary active
transport, secondary active transport, channel-mediated transport,
epithelial transport, actin, pathophysiology, genetic mutation.
The Journal of Experimental Biology 209, 577-589
Published by The Company of Biologists 2006
The V-type H+ATPase: molecular structure and function, physiological roles
Klaus W. Beyenbach1,* and Helmut Wieczorek2
1Department of Biomedical Sciences, VRT 8004, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA and 2Department of
Biology/Chemistry, University of Osnabrück, 49069 Osnabrück, Germany
*Author for correspondence (e-mail: KWB1@CORNELL.EDU)
Accepted 24 November 2005
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
laboratories working with animals, plants and fungi. In animal
cells, adrenal medullary chromaffin granules provided the first
evidence for the existence of a proton ATPase in a vacuolar
system when Kirshner (1962) showed that uptake of
catecholamines is an ATP-dependent process. But it would
take another 13 years before Radda and coworkers
demonstrated the existence of a proton pump in the membrane
of chromaffin granules (Bashford et al., 1975). Thereafter,
reports accumulated on the identification of ATP-driven proton
transport and/or respective ATPase activity in the membrane
of organelles such as clathrin-coated vesicles, platelet dense
granules, lysosomes and chromaffin granules (Apps and Reid,
1977; Cidon and Nelson, 1983; Dean et al., 1984; Forgac et
al., 1983; Harikumar and Reeves, 1983; Ohkuma et al., 1982;
Xie et al., 1983).
In plants, the finding of a salt- and ionophore-stimulated
ATPase in microsomes of turnips signaled the advent of a new
transport pump (Rungie and Wiskich, 1973). An anion-
stimulated ATPase activity was also observed in vacuolar
membranes of rubber trees and red beets which, curiously, was
not inhibited by vanadate, the classical inhibitor of P-type
pumps (D’Auzac, 1975; Walker and Leigh, 1981). Moreover,
these studies suggested that a proton pump acidifies vacuolar
and lysosomal compartments. By the early 1980s, several
laboratories working with isolated microsomal or vacuolar
vesicles had independently attributed the anion-stimulated and
vanadate-insensitive ATPase activity to an electrogenic proton
pump. These laboratories included those of Hager (Hager et
al., 1980), Sze (Churchill and Sze, 1983), Spanswick (DuPont
et al., 1982) and Taiz (Mandala et al., 1982).
Interest in the newly found proton pump grew with reports
of a vacuolar ATPase in fungi such as yeast (Kakinuma et al.,
1981) and Neurospora (Bowman and Bowman, 1982). By the
second half of the eighties, the purification of vacuolar
ATPases from animals, plants and fungi had revealed their
multisubunit composition (Arai et al., 1987; Bowman et al.,
1986; Moriyama and Nelson, 1987; Randall and Sze, 1986;
Uchida et al., 1985; Xie and Stone, 1986). In view of (1) the
location of vacuolar ATPases in organellar membranes, where
they mediate proton transport, (2) the subunit similarity among
V-ATPases from diverse sources, (3) common inhibitor
profiles, and (4) the absence of a covalent phosphorylated
intermediate in the reaction cycle, the vacuolar ATPases were
acknowledged, alongside F-type and P-type ATPases (F- and
P-ATPases), as a third family of ion-motive ATPases, to be
called V-type ATPases (Pedersen and Carafoli, 1987) or V-
ATPases (Nelson, 1989). Since the eukaryotic V-ATPases all
transport protons, they are also called H+V-ATPases or V-type
To date, impressive progress has been made in elucidating
the structural, functional and regulatory properties of V-type
H+ATPases. The discovery of bafilomycin as a specific potent
inhibitor enabled the detection of this new proton pump in a
variety of unexpected locations and with unforeseen
physiological activities (Bowman et al., 1988). The amino acid
sequences of the complete set of subunits of several V-type
ATPases have now been deduced from cDNA cloning, and
much has been learned about the interactions between subunits,
the regulation of enzyme activity, and the assembly and
targeting during biogenesis (Nishi and Forgac, 2002).
Electron microscopic images of the V-type H+ATPase were
obtained before they were found to show parts of this proton
pump. As early as 1966, Gupta and Berridge (Gupta and
Berridge, 1966) had observed repeating structures on the
cytoplasmic surface of the plasma membrane in the ion-
transporting epithelium of the blowfly rectum. Similar
structures were later seen at the apical plasma membrane of
goblet cells in the caterpillar midgut of Cecropia (Anderson
and Harvey, 1966). But it would take until 1983 before these
structures were noted to resemble the catalytic sector of the
mitochondrial ATP synthase and called ‘portasomes’ (Harvey
et al., 1983). Portasomes were subsequently observed in
vesicular membranes of many eukaryotic cells such as the
vacuolar membrane of Neurospora (Dschida and Bowman,
1992), acidosomes of Dictyostelium (Nolta et al., 1991),
tonoplasts of several higher plants (Klink and Lüttge, 1991;
Moore et al., 1991; Taiz and Taiz, 1991), bovine chromaffin
granules (Moriyama et al., 1991), and even in plasma
membranes (Brown et al., 1987), where they were called
‘studs’ (Fig.·1). Since then, additional light has been shed on
the topology of V-ATPases. Transmission electron microscopy
has provided the low-resolution structures of the holoenzyme
and its subcomplexes (reviewed by Wilkens et al., 2005).
High-resolution structural analysis by X-ray crystallography of
several subunits and subcomplexes of eukaryotic V-ATPases
and their bacterial Na+-pumping relatives are now in progress
(Drory et al., 2004; Iwata et al., 2004; Murata et al., 2005).
The V-type H+ATPase is now thought to be present in
virtually every eukaryotic cell. The proton pump occupies
intracellular membranes such as those of clathrin-coated
vesicles, synaptic vesicles, endosomes, storage vesicles, Golgi
vesicles, secretory vesicles, lysosomes and their partner
organelle in plants and fungi, the central vacuole (Stevens and
Forgac, 1997). Best known are the contributions made by the
V-type H+ATPase to the acidification of intracellular
compartments. In lysosomes and in vacuoles of plants and
fungi, a pH of about 5 serves the breakdown of
macromolecules by up to 40 types of acid hydrolases including
proteases, glycosidases, lipases, nucleases and phosphatases. A
further function of the vacuole aided by the V-type H+ATPase
is the regulation of cytosolic pH and the uptake of cations such
as Na+, Ca2+and Cd2+via H+-driven antiport (Dietz et al.,
2001). The acidification of endocytotic and exocytotic
organelles mediated by the V-type H+ATPase in animal cells
provides optimal pH values for diverse functions. For instance,
in the endocytotic pathway the endosomal pH of 6 causes the
release of ligands such as transferrin or low density lipoprotein
from their respective receptors (Johnson et al., 1993). In the
exocytotic pathway, peptides and proteins in acidic secretory
vesicles are often proteolytically processed from pro-proteins
by acid proteases to yield, for example, enkephalin or insulin.
Next to the V-type H+ATPase, synaptic vesicles possess
K. W. Beyenbach and H. Wieczorek
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
ATP-driven proton pump
transporters for glutamate (SLC17), monoamines and
acetylcholine (SLC18), and ?-aminobutyrate (SLC32). What
these families of vesicular solute-linked carriers (SLC) share in
common is H+-dependent transport of neurotransmitter
(Hediger et al., 2004; Parsons, 2000). The uptake of
monoamines and ?-aminobutyrate is driven by the outward
proton concentration difference, and the uptake of anionic
glutamate is driven by the membrane voltage, positive inside
(Moriyama et al., 1992). Both proton concentration difference
and membrane voltage are generated by the V-type H+ATPase.
The V-type H+ATPase also supports important functions in
protozoans. In Paramecium, the proton pump is located in the
decorated spongiome of radial arms that extend from the
contractile vacuole complex (Fok et al., 1995). Concanomycin,
an inhibitor of V-type H+ATPases, significantly decreases the
rate of fluid uptake by the contractile vesicle complex,
suggesting that the proton pump serves volume regulation in
Paramecium (Gronlien et al., 2002). In the malaria parasite
Plasmodium, the V-type H+ATPase occurs not only in the
membranes of cell organelles but also in the plasma membrane,
where it may be involved, among other functions, in energizing
the secondary transport of diverse solutes (Moriyama et al.,
2003). What is more, the Plasmodium-encoded V-type H+
ATPase is exported to the cytoplasm of the host erythrocyte
and targeted to the plasma membrane, where it has a role in
maintaining the intracellular pH of the infected erythrocyte
(Marchesini et al., 2005).
Located in plasma membranes of cells, the V-type H+
ATPase can acidify the extracellular compartment that serves
a number of roles: the resorption of bone by osteoclasts
(Schlesinger et al., 1997), the maturation and storage of sperm
in the epididymal lumen (Breton et al., 1996), the reabsorption
of bicarbonate in renal proximal tubules (Wagner et al., 2004),
the urinary acidification in the distal nephron (Al Awqati,
1996), and the regulation of pH in the inner ear (Stankovic et
al., 1997). Even frog skin, the hallmark epithelium of Na+/K+-
ATPase driven epithelial transport, has been found to use the
plasma membrane V-type H+ATPase to secrete H+and absorb
Na+across the epithelium (Ehrenfeld and Klein, 1997).
Freshwater crustaceans, amphibians and fish employ the V-
type H+ATPase in osmoregulation (Kirschner, 2004). Located
in the plasma membrane, the proton pump is implicated in
transepithelial Cl–absorption across the gill of freshwater crab
(Weihrauch et al., 2004) and in transepithelial Na+absorption
across the gill of freshwater fish via channels and/or carriers
that are ultimately dependent on the V-type H+ATPase
(Kirschner, 2004; Wilson et al., 2000).
Metastasizing cells are thought to use the V-type H+ATPase
in the plasma membrane to acidify the extracellular fluid, with
the effect of destroying normal tissue in advance of the
invading tumor (Sennoune et al., 2004). The fusion of viral and
endosomal membranes that delivers the viral genome to the
cytoplasm is dependent on the V-type H+ATPase (Perez and
When anion channels are absent in membranes inhabited by
the V-type H+ATPase, acidification is much reduced (Harvey,
1992). Under this condition the proton pump generates large
membrane voltages at small ?pH, driving a diversity of
electrogenic secondary active transport systems such as
nH+/cation antiport or nH+/oligopeptide symport (Grinstein
and Wieczorek, 1994; Leibach and Ganapathy, 1996).
Molecular architecture and mechanistic interpretations
V-type H+ ATPases and F-ATPases share structural and
functional similarities (Nishi and Forgac, 2002). In general,
F-ATPases produce ATP and V-ATPases consume ATP in
eukaryotic cells. In principle, the function of both ATPases
is reversible (Hirata et al., 2000). ATP is synthesized when
the ionic electrochemical potential is greater than the free
energy of ATP hydrolysis. In contrast, when the free energy
of ATP hydrolysis is greater than the ionic electrochemical
Fig.·1. Electron micrographs of
‘studs’, the globular headpieces of
the V1complex of the V-type H+
micrograph of a vesicle from the
apical region of a mitochondria-
rich cell after rapid freezing and
freeze-drying of apical membrane
segments of toad urinary bladder
(courtesy of D. Brown, Boston).
(b) Negative stained electron
micrograph of a vesicle after
purification of goblet cell apical
membranes from the midgut of the
tobacco hornworm (courtesy of
M. Huss and H. Wieczorek, Osnabrück). The diameter of ‘studs’ (portasomes) is approximately 10·nm. The average density is about 16·800
studs·?m–2of membrane in the toad urinary bladder (Brown et al., 1987) and about 5000·?m–2 in the tobacco hornworm.
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
potential, the hydrolysis of ATP drives the uphill transport of
The V- and F-ATPases are multisubunit proteins of up to 14
different polypeptides, which assemble as two major ring
structures: (1) a peripheral V1or F1complex (400–600·kDa)
that interacts with ATP, ADP and inorganic phosphate, and (2)
an integral membrane V0or F0complex (150–350·kDa) that
mediates the transport of H+or Na+. In the case of eukaryotic
V-type H+ATPases, the V1complex is invariably present in
the cytoplasm such that the pump transports H+into vesicles
and vacuoles when expressed in endosomal membranes and
into the extracellular fluid when expressed in the plasma
By convention, the subunits of V1and V0complexes are
distinguished with large and small letters respectively (Fig.·2).
The V1complex consists of: (1) a globular headpiece with
three alternating copies of subunits A and B that form a ring,
(2) a central rotational stalk composed of single copies of
subunits D and F, and (3) a peripheral stalk made of subunits
C, E, G and H. Subunits A and B mediate the hydrolysis of
ATP at three reaction sites associated with subunit A. Both the
central rotational stalk and fixed peripheral stalk connect the
V1complex with the V0complex (Fig.·2). The fixed peripheral
stalk holds the V1complex in place, aided in part by subunits
B and C of the V1complex that bind to actin. Subunit C alone
is capable of binding monomeric actin as well as cross-linking
and stabilizing actin filaments. The proton-transporting V0
complex consists of six or more c subunits, also forming a ring
structure (Fig.·2). As many as 10 subunits form a concave ring
structure in the eubacterial V-type Na+
Enterococcus hirae (Murata et al., 2005).
A functional model that is widely accepted considers the V-
type H+ATPase to consist of a stationary and a mobile part,
the stator and rotor, respectively. The rotor consists of subunits
D, F and the ring of subunits c (Fig.·2B). The remaining
structures are considered the stator. The function of the V0
subunits d and e remains enigmatic.
How rotation of the rotor mediates the linear transfer of H+
across the membrane is hypothetically constructed in Fig.·2,
based on the innovative models proposed for the F-ATPases
(Feniouk et al., 2004; Junge et al., 1997; Junge et al., 2001)
and V-ATPases (Grabe et al., 2000; Murata et al., 2005).
Fundamental to the model are (1) two H+half-channels across
the membrane, provided by subunit a in close proximity to the
c-ring, (2) a H+binding site on each c subunit of the c-ring,
and (3) the rotation of the c-ring driven by the hydrolysis of
ATP (Fig.·2). The inner half channel of subunit a is thought to
allow cytoplasmic H+to access and bind to one subunit of the
c-ring. After the nearly 360° rotation of the c-ring, clockwise
when viewed from the cytoplasm (Meier et al., 2005), H+can
unbind and exit the membrane through the outer half channel
(Fig.·2B). Variations of this model have been proposed. For
example, inlet and outlet half channels are thought to be
located in stator and rotor, respectively, in the F1F0-ATPase of
K. W. Beyenbach and H. Wieczorek
Fig.·2. Model of the V-type H+ATPase expressed in a eukaryotic cell membrane. (A) Molecular model. The peripheral V1complex consists
of eight different subunits identified with capital letters A–H. Subunit G exists as the dimer G2. The integral membrane V0complex consists
of at least four different subunits identified with small letters (a,c,d,e). Subunit c and its isoforms c? and c?? form a H+-binding rotor ring. Actin
binds to subunits B (Holliday et al., 2000) and C (Vitavska et al., 2003). (B) Mechanistic model. V0and V1complexes are joined by a central
rotating shaft (subunits D,F) and a peripheral stationary shaft (subunits C,E,G,H,a). The central shaft of the V1complex and the c-ring of the
V0complex form the rotor (red). The remainder is considered the stator (grey). Hydrolysis of ATP brings about rotation of the central shaft
together with the c-ring of the V0complex. Subunit a hypothetically provides two H+half channels that are offset. Rotation of the c-ring conveys
H+from the inner half channel to the outer half channel via an intermediary H+binding step to one subunit c. The pleomacrolides bafilomycin
and concanomycin, as well as the recently discovered macrolactone archazolid, are highly specific inhibitors that bind to the c subunits in the
V0complex (Huss et al., 2002; Huss et al., 2005). Adapted from various sources (Inoue and Forgac, 2005; Murata et al., 2005; Wilkens et al.,
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
ATP-driven proton pump
the anaerobic bacterium Propionigenium modestum (Xing et
al., 2004), and another model (Aksimentiev et al., 2004)
proposes swiveling motions of individual helices of subunit c
as well as the rotation of the entire c-ring.
As to the number of protons transported per ATP consumed,
coupling ratios determined for V-type H+ATPases agree on
2H+/1ATP (Tomashek and Brusilow, 2000). The 2:1 functional
stoichiometry is consistent with the structural stoichiometry of
six binding sites for H+on the c-ring of the V0complex and
three sites binding sites for ATP on the V1complex (Fig.·2).
Moreover, F-ATPases can be observed to hydrolyze three ATP
molecules with each revolution of the rotor (Yasuda et al.,
1998). Nevertheless, coupling ratios must be neither integral
nor constant (Junge and Nelson, 2005; Murata et al., 2005;
Tomashek and Brusilow, 2000).
Clever experiments have visualized the rotation of the
central stalk in the bacterial ATP synthase (Noji et al., 1997).
In brief, the catalytic F1 complex was immobilized upside
down via a His-tag on a coverslip, and a fluorescent actin
filament was attached to the central stalk via streptavidin.
Adding ATP triggered the rotation of the fluorescent actin
filament and the stalk. Furthermore, the reversibility of this
motor was demonstrated by constructing a ‘molecular sparkler’
(Itoh et al., 2004). Here, a magnetic bead rather than
fluorescent actin was attached to the central stalk. The bead
was then rotated using an external magnet. The medium
contained luciferin and luciferase such that one photon was
emitted upon each capture and hydrolysis of ATP newly
formed with each rotation. Rotation of the magnetic bead in
one direction increased the number of chemiluminescent
photons beyond those observed upon rotation in the opposite
direction, proving vectorial ATP synthesis. The rotation of a
eubacterial V1complex has now also been visualized with the
aid of flurorescent actin filaments (Imamura et al., 2003),
leaving little doubt that rotational catalysis is the mechanism
of both F- and V-ATPases in vivo.
Energizer of endosomal membranes, plasma membranes
and whole epithelia
The V-type H+ATPase was first considered an energizer of
endosomal membranes before this proton pump was found in
plasma membranes. As shown in Fig.·3A, the partnership
formed by the V-type H+ATPase and an organic anion channel
in vacuoles of plants is responsible for voltage-dependent
malate transport into the vacuole (Hafke et al., 2003). In
subapical membrane vesicles of the renal proximal tubule, the
V-type H+ATPase colocalizes with ClC-5 that once was
thought to be a voltage-gated Cl–channel (Jentsch et al., 2002).
Today ClC-5, ClC-4, and possibly other endosomal Cl–
transporters are considered electrogenic Cl–/H+exchangers
(Scheel et al., 2005). The collaboration between the V-type H+
ATPase and the Cl–/H+exchanger ClC-5 is thought to be
fundamental to (1) the recycling of apical membrane proteins
such as megalin, the Na+/Picotransporter, the Na+-dependent
D-glucose cotransporter SGLT, and other transporters, and (2)
the endocytotic reabsorption of filtered proteins in renal
proximal tubules (Fig.·3B). Loss of function mutation in the
Cl–/H+exchanger ClC-5 produces the signs of Dent’s disease
and Fanconi-like syndrome, which include not only the renal
loss of low molecular mass proteins, but also calcium,
phosphate, glucose, salt and water (Jentsch et al., 2002).
A defective Cl–/H+exchanger is expected to hyperpolarize
the endocytotic membrane, bringing its voltage towards the
electromotive force of the V-type H+ATPase with the effect
of reducing both H+and Cl–transport into the vesicle.
Vesicular acidification would thereby be reduced, with
possible negative effects on trafficking the vesicle in the
In synaptic regions of neurons, the pas-de-deux of the V-
type H+ATPase and the H+/neurotransmitter antiporter of the
VMAT-type (vesicular monoamine transporter, SLC18)
(Eiden et al., 2004) is responsible for accumulating and storing
neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline,
Fig.·3. Utility of the V-type H+ATPase expressed in endosomal membranes. Large transmembrane H+electrochemical potentials generated
by the V-type H+ATPase drive the electrophoretic uptake of malate in vacuoles of plants (A), electrophoretic Cl–transport across endocytotic
membranes via the Cl–/H+antiporter ClC-5 (B), and the uptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin (S+) in synaptic vesicles via VMAT, a member
of the SLC18 family of solute-linked-carriers (C). See www.bioparadigms.og/slc/menu.asp for the HUGO classification of solute-linked-
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
noradrenaline and histamine (Fig.·3C). Here the V-type H+
ATPase generates (1) a vesicular ?pH about 1.4 pH lower than
cytoplasm pH, and (2) a membrane voltage of 40·mV (positive
inside). Since VMAT exchanges 2 H+ions for each serotonin
(Parsons, 2000), the ?pH concentrates serotonin (S+) 630-fold
in the vesicle:
ln([S+]i / [S+]o) = 2 ln([H+]i/ [H+]o)·,
and the membrane voltage concentrates serotonin 4.8-fold in
40·mV = 26·mV ln([S+]i/ [S+]o)·,
where 26·mV is the product RT/zF (R, gas constant; T,
temperature; z, valence; F, Faraday constant). Together,
chemical and electrical potentials yield a total 3000-fold
concentration difference. If the serotonin concentration in the
cytoplasm is 10·?mol·l–1, then the vesicular serotonin
concentration can reach a maximal value of about 30·mmol·l–1
as the 2H+/S+antiporter goes to electrochemical equilibrium.
Due to intravesicular association, the serotonin concentration
may reach values up to 100·mmol·l–1in the vesicle.
The observation of electrogenic H+secretion dependent on
metabolism in the turtle urinary bladder gave the first hint of
an ATP-dependent proton pump in a plasma membrane (Al
Awqati, 1978). The characterization of this proton pump in
membrane fractions of the turtle bladder (Gluck et al., 1982)
and mammalian kidney (Gluck and Al Awqati, 1984) revealed
striking functional similarities with proton pumps of vacuolar
membranes. Striking structural similarities with the V-type H+
ATPase of yeast were observed upon the isolation of the
kidney proton pump (Gluck and Caldwell, 1987; Gluck and
Caldwell, 1988). Antibodies prepared against the isolated
kidney proton pump confirmed its location in the apical plasma
membrane of epithelial cells (Brown et al., 1987).
Wieczorek et al. (1991) were the first to recognize that the
V-type H+ATPase can energize secondary active transport
across the plasma membrane. As shown in Fig.·4A, the V-type
H+ATPase (and not the Na+/K+ATPase) was found to power
the active transport of K+via nH+/K+antiport in a highly
purified preparation of the apical membrane of the midgut of
the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. In mammals, the
association of the V-type H+ATPase with Cl–channels in the
ruffled membrane of osteoclasts (Fig.·4B) is known to secrete
the strong acid HCl that serves the digestion and remodeling
of bone (Chatterjee et al., 1992; Cleiren et al., 2001;
Schlesinger et al., 1997). In renal proximal tubules, H+secreted
into the tubule lumen by the apical membrane V-type H+
ATPase is thought to account for 40% of HCO3–reabsorption
via the formation of CO2(Wagner et al., 2004). In addition,
the transmembrane H+electrochemical potential drives H+-
oligopeptide cotransport via PEPT1 and PEPT2 (Fig.·4C). In
the renal medulla, the V-type H+ATPase contributes to urinary
acidification when the proton pump is expressed in the apical
membrane of ?-intercalated cells, and it contributes to urinary
alkalinization when the proton pump is expressed in the
basolateral membrane of ?-intercalated cells (Brown and
The laboratory of Beyenbach has extended the concept of
energizing plasma membranes by the V-type H+ATPase to
energizing whole epithelia (Beyenbach, 2001). Malpighian
tubules of the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti express
the V-type H+ATPase at the apical membrane of principal
cells (Fig.·5). The tubules have no measurable activity of the
Na+/K+ATPase. Instead, most ATPase activity stems from the
V-type H+ATPase (Weng et al., 2003). The electromotive
force of the proton pump (Ep, Fig.·5) serves largely to polarize
the apical membrane to voltage that on average is 111·mV
(negative inside). The small transmembrane proton
concentration difference (?pH·0.16) supports H+transport
from cell to tubule lumen, i.e. opposite to the gradient needed
to drive outward Na+and K+(cat+) transport via exchange
transport with H+(Petzel et al., 1999). Since electroneutral
K. W. Beyenbach and H. Wieczorek
Fig.·4. Utility of the V-type H+ATPase expressed in plasma membranes. (A) Coupling of proton secretion to K+secretion via electrogenic
2H+/K+antiport in apical membranes of goblet cells in insect midgut (Azuma et al., 1995). (B) Secretion of strong acid across the ruffled border
membrane (apical membrane) into the lacunar space of osteoclasts, serving the acid digestion of bone (Chatterjee et al., 1992; Cleiren et al.,
2001). (C) Coupling of proton secretion to oligopeptide absorption in the apical brush border membrane of the renal proximal tubule (Lee and
Kim, 2004; Wagner et al., 2004).
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
ATP-driven proton pump
antiport is insensitive to membrane voltage, an electrogenic
antiporter that exchanges 2H+for each Na+ or K+would
overcome the outward directed proton gradient and take
advantage of the high apical membrane voltage generated by
the V-type H+ATPase (Fig.·5). At the prevailing pH and
voltage difference across the apical membrane, an antiport
stoichiometry of 2H+/cat+would generate luminal K+and Na+
concentrations approximately 40 times higher than their
respective concentrations in the cell:
RT ln([cat+]o/ [cat+]i) + zFV = nRT ln([H+]o/ [H+]i) + nzFV·,
where n is the stoichiometry of H+/cat+antiport, V is the apical
membrane voltage (111·mV), o and i are outer and intracellular
concentrations respectively, and z, F, R and T have their usual
The apical membrane voltage generated by the V-type H+
ATPase also drives paracellular Cl–transport and the entry of
K+into the cell across the basolateral membrane. In brief,
positive current carried by H+across the apical membrane must
return to the cytoplasmic face of the pump. Positive pump
current returning to the peritubular side of the epithelium is
carried by Cl–passing in the opposite direction through the
paracellular pathway as the mechanism of paracellular Cl–
secretion (Pannabecker et al., 1993). Positive current carried
by K+and Na+ across the basolateral membrane completes the
electrical circuit (Masia et al., 2000; Sawyer and Beyenbach,
1985). Similar patterns of coupling the electromotive force of
the proton pump located at the apical membrane to transport
across the basolateral membrane are likely to be found in other
Regulation of the V-type H+ATPase
A 800·kDa protein as complex as the V-type H+ATPase is
expected to respond to a diversity of factors, including
regulatory inputs from physiological feedback loops. The
process of molting has provided the first glimpse at
physiological regulation of the V-type H+ATPase that links
growth of the whole organism to transepithelial transport
across the intestine. Growing tobacco hornworms Manduca
sexta support their voracious appetite with a midgut that
enigmatically secretes K+into the lumen akin to the
mechanism of K+secretion in insect Malpighian tubules
illustrated in Fig.·5. Large transepithelial, lumen-positive
voltages across the midgut (>100·mV) attest to the high
activity of the V-type H+ATPase at the apical membrane that
provides the electrical driving force for K+secretion via
2H+/K+antiport. In the midgut of larvae that have ceased
feeding during molt, transepithelial voltage goes to zero, and
the hydrolysis of ATP as well as ATP-dependent proton
transport drop to less than 15% of control, indicating the
inactivation of the V-type
immunocytochemical studies demonstrated the loss of the V1
complex from the apical plasma membrane that was
subsequently found to reflect the physical separation of V1and
complexes, as shown by gel electrophoresis and
immunoblot (Sumner et al., 1995). Alone, the native V1
complex does not hydrolyze ATP in the presence of cytosolic
Mg2+concentrations (Gräf et al., 1996), and free V0complexes
normally do not allow the passage of protons (Beltran and
Nelson, 1992; Zhang et al., 1992). The dissociation of the
holoenzyme was subsequently confirmed in yeast, where
H+ ATPase. Parallel
Fig.·5. The V-type H+ATPase powers
transepithelial NaCl and KCl secretion
in Malpighian tubules of the yellow
fever mosquito. Only conductive
transport pathways are shown to
illustrate diverse voltage-dependent
transport mechanisms driven by the V-
type H+ATPase located at the apical
generated by the proton pump is carried
by H+across the apical membrane, by
Cl–through the paracellular pathway
(septate junctions, sj), and by K+and
Na+across the basolateral membrane.
Under control conditions, K+channels
account for as much as 64% of the
membrane (Beyenbach and Masia,
selectivity of the paracellular, septate
junctional pathway (Beyenbach, 2003).
The 2H+/cat+antiporter in the apical membrane remains to be identified. Mosquito natriuretic peptide and its second messenger cyclic AMP
decrease the resistance to Na+entry across the basolateral membrane (Beyenbach, 2001). The diuretic peptide leucokinin decreases the resistance
of the paracellular pathway for Cl–(Beyenbach, 2003). Ep, electromotive force of the V-type H+ ATPase; R, resistance; I, current; p, pump,
cat+, cation. Epand Rpform a proton current generator.
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
glucose deprivation for as little as 5·min triggered the
dissociation of 70% of holoenzyme (Kane, 1995). The addition
of glucose reversed the process, bringing about the reassembly
of V0and V1complexes. Holoenzyme association/dissociation
is now thought a universal regulatory mechanism of V-
Today we are still far from knowing the molecular details
of reversible V1–V0
dissociation. What we presently
understand best has largely been gleaned in studies of yeast,
but also in studies of mammalian kidneys and insect salivary
glands. In yeast cells, the glucose-induced reassembly of V1
and V0appears to be assisted by the heterotrimeric protein
RAVE (Regulator of the H+ ATPase of Vacuolar and
Endosomal membranes) binding to the free V1 complex
(Smardon et al., 2002). Though glucose-induced, the RAVE-
mediated reassembly is not glucose-dependent, because RAVE
binds to V1whenever it is present in the cytosol. In contrast,
glucose dramatically increases the interaction of the V-ATPase
with the glycolytic enzyme aldolase (Lu et al., 2004). It appears
that aldolase uses three different sites to bind respectively to
subunits B and E of the V1complex and to subunit a of the V0
complex, thereby facilitating the assembly of the holoenzyme.
Thus, glucose stimulates the aldolase-mediated assembly of
holoenzyme. In this role aldolase acquires the additional
function as glucose sensor for regulating the activity of V-type
H+ATPase activity (Lu et al., 2004).
Other mechanisms for triggering the assembly of
holoenzyme may abound. For example, in renal epithelial cells,
glucose activates phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase dependent
signaling and the assembly of V1and V0complexes (Sautin et
al., 2005). Still, the molecular details for enhancing the
reassembly of holoenzyme by RAVE, aldolase and kinase(s)
remain to be elucidated. Also intriguing are the molecular
mechanisms that couple glucose withdrawal to V1–V0
dissociation, since apparently conventional signal transduction
pathways are not activated by glucose depletion (Parra and
Though hormones can activate the assembly of holoenzyme,
the molecular details are unknown. For example, it has been
known for decades that transepithelial secretion of a KCl-rich
primary saliva in the blowfly Calliphora is stimulated by
serotonin (Berridge et al., 1976). Apparently, the serotonin-
induced increase in cyclic AMP (cAMP) activates an
electrogenic K+transport mechanism (Berridge et al., 1976)
that today is thought to derive from the V-type H+ATPase
working in parallel with a K+/H+ antiporter (Wieczorek et al.,
1999). Immunofluorescent labeling of different V-ATPase
subunits, as well as measurements of enzyme activity, have
shown that serotonin recruits V1subunits from the cytosol,
consistent with the assembly of the V1V0 holoenzyme
(Zimmermann et al., 2003). In Malpighian tubules of insects,
where intracellular second messengers of diuresis and
antidiuresis have been identified, it remains unknown whether
cAMP, cGMP, Ca2+and NO affect the disassembly/reassembly
of the V1V0 holoenzyme.
Subunit C of the V1 complex is unique among V-ATPase
subunits in that it is released from the V1 complex upon its
dissociation from the V0 complex (Gräf et al., 1996; Kane,
1995; Merzendorfer et al., 2000; Vitavska et al., 2003). Recent
studies suggest that subunit C may play a central role in
holoenzyme disassembly/reassembly. Subunit C appears to
bridge the V1 and V0 complexes, binding to subunits E and G
of the V1complex and to subunit a of the V0complex (Inoue
and Forgac, 2005). Subunit C is thus a good candidate for
modulating the stability of the V1V0holoenzyme. Indeed, the
structural changes observed in subunit C in yeast and
K. W. Beyenbach and H. Wieczorek
Fig.·6. Dissociation of the V-type H+ATPase into V1and V0complexes. (A) The intact holoenzyme hydrolyzes ATP, transports H+, and
generates voltage across the membrane; (B) intestinal inactivity during molt or starvation in caterpillars and glucose deprivation in yeasts causes
the holoenzyme to dissociate. Concomitantly, ATP hydrolysis and proton transport collapse and membrane voltage goes to zero. (Adapted from
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
ATP-driven proton pump
Arabidopsis may depend on the ATP/ADP ratio (Armbrüster
et al., 2005). Since this ratio can be influenced by the
availability of glucose, subunit C might also serve indirectly
as a glucose sensor, responding to changing concentrations of
glucose with conformational changes, which in turn affect the
stability of the V1V0holoenzyme.
Subunit C of the caterpillar midgut of Manduca sexta binds
with high affinity to actin filaments, either as an isolated
protein, as subunit of the V1V0holoenzyme, or reconstituted
into the V1complex (Vitavska et al., 2003). Morevoer, subunit
C, occurring in micromolar concentrations in the cytosol,
cross-links actin filaments and even binds monomeric G-actin
(Vitavska et al., 2005). F-actin crosslinking is likely to stabilize
actin filament bundles in the apical microvilli of goblet cells
of Manduca sexta. In addition, subunit C may play an
important role in controlling the dynamics of the actin
cytoskeleton because it binds F-actin and G-actin (Vitavska et
al., 2005). Furthermore, F-actin binding to subunits B and C
of the membrane-embedded V1V0holoenzyme could serve to
stabilize the stator (Fig.·2). In the intact cell, this hypothetical
novel function of F-actin may strengthen the stator to withstand
the torque generated by the rotor.
Subunit knockouts, gene mutations and some diseases
Because of their involvement in basic cellular mechanisms,
V-ATPases are crucial components of virtually every
eukaryotic cell. It is widely appreciated that an intact V-type
H+ATPase is required for the normal function of the Golgi
complex, endoplasmic reticulum, vacuoles and endocytotic
and exocytotic vesicles. The indispensability of V-type
ATPases was first shown in yeast which, with the exception of
subunit a, possesses one gene only for each subunit. Disruption
of single-copy genes encoding the V1 subunit B or the V0
subunit c resulted in the inability of yeast cells to survive at
physiological pH (Nelson and Nelson, 1990). Since then, the
same lethal effect has been demonstrated for every knock-out
of a V-ATPase single-copy gene in yeast (Nelson, 2003). A
lethal effect after knockout of the gene encoding subunit A was
also observed for Neurospora (Ferea and Bowman, 1996).
Later on it was shown that, as in yeast, lethality occurred only
at physiological pH values slightly above 7; at acidic pH values
(<pH·6) Neurospora was able to survive (Bowman et al.,
Inactivation of single-copy genes encoding subunit A in
Neurospora, subunit B in Drosophila, and subunit c in mice
also resulted in lethal phenotypes (Davies et al., 1996; Ferea
and Bowman, 1996; Inoue et al., 1999).
When more than one gene encodes a V-ATPase subunit,
different subunit isoforms are usually found at different
locations. In yeast, one of the two isoforms of subunit a is
targeted to the vacuolar membrane, whereas the second
isoform is targeted to the late Golgi apparatus (Kawasaki-Nishi
et al., 2001). In multicellular higher eukaryotes, different
isoforms often show cell-type or tissue-specific locations. For
example, in mammals different isoforms of several subunits
have been selectively identified in the kidney (Oka et al., 2001;
Smith et al., 2002; Sun-Wada et al., 2003a; Sun-Wada et al.,
2003b), inner ear (Dou et al., 2003), brain (Murata et al., 2002),
osteoclasts (Manolson et al., 2003), alveolar cells (Sun-Wada
et al., 2003a; Sun-Wada et al., 2003b) and the acrosome (Sun-
Wada et al., 2002). Genetic defects in a tissue-specific isoform
must not necessarily result in a lethal phenotype, but it may
give rise to inherited disorders.
Mutations in the genes encoding the kidney-specific
isoforms B1 and a4 are partly responsible for inheritable forms
of distal renal tubular acidosis, characterized by elevated H+
and Cl–concentrations in the plasma due to the impaired renal
excretion of acid (Karet et al., 1999; Smith et al., 2000). Gene
mutations of subunits B1 and a4 in the cochlea can result in
sensorineural deafness, evidently due to impaired contractile
responses of hair cells (Karet et al., 1999; Stover et al., 2002).
Mutations in the gene encoding subunit a3 lead to one type of
infantile malignant autosomal recessive osteopetrosis, a
disease where the bone progressively hardens due to reduced
osteoclast activity (Frattini et al., 2000; Susani et al., 2004). In
contrast to the tissue-specific isoforms B1 and a4, a3 is found
in all mammalian tissues so far examined (Nishi and Forgac,
2000). In osteoclasts, a3 is part of the V-type H+ ATPase
inhabiting the ruffled border membrane (Fig.·4B) while a1
appears to be restricted to endomembranes, leading to the
suggestion (Toyomura et al., 2000) that V-ATPases housing
the a3 isoform in transport vesicles may interact with
microtubules to be carried to the ruffled border membrane.
Thus, a defect in the gene encoding a crucial site in subunit a3
may impair the targeting of the holoenzyme from the
endosomal system to the ruffled border in osteoclasts.
The V-type H+ATPase is widely distributed in prokaryotes
and eukaryotes. Molecular studies have elucidated the structure
and function of this proton pump in some detail. Interactions
between various subunits of the pump and other cellular
nanostructures are now emerging. What lags behind is our
understanding of the regulation of the proton pump in intact
cells. Questions remain about the physiological connections
between growth of the whole organism and the regulation of
pump activity at the molecular level. Also largely unexplored
are the collaborations that the V-type H+ATPase enters with
other membrane transport proteins – pumps, carriers and
channels – and how these give rise to diverse functions that
range from protein sorting to membrane trafficking,
exocytosis, endocytotic digestion,
neurotransmitters, and the energizing of membrane and
epithelial transport systems. Regulators beyond the usual
second messengers that dictate pump activity via kinases,
phosphatases or other enzymes are largely unknown.
Molecular, genetic and proteomic studies will undoubtedly
illuminate structural and functional properties in further detail.
Equally important are ‘classical’ studies at the level of
membranes, tissues and organisms. We probably would not
the recycling of
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY
know about the reversible dissociation of the holoenzyme as a
universal regulatory mechanism of this proton pump had not
the molting caterpillar first shown us how it was done.
Accordingly, the study of general physiology will continue to
identify the relevant biological reactions from the gamut of
chemical reactions proteins can execute, and the study of
comparative physiology will continue to subscribe to the
August Krogh principle, where nature is found to provide an
ideal study system for any particular question in biology
The authors thank Roger Spanswick and Heven Sze for
assistance in reconstructing the history of the V-type H+
ATPase; Markus Huss, Hans Merzendorfer, Olga Vitavska
and Dirk Weihrauch for stimulating discussions, and the
National Science Foundation
Forschungsgemeinschaft for long years of supporting the
work of K.W.B. and H.W., respectively.
and the Deutsche
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