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. V-ATPases have similar structure and mechanism of action with F-ATPase and several of their subunits evolved from common ancestors. In eukaryotic cells, F-ATPases are confined to the semi-autonomous organelles, chloroplasts, and mitochondria, which contain their own genes that encode some of the F-ATPase subunits. In contrast to F-ATPases, whose primary function in eukaryotic cells is to form ATP at the expense of the proton-motive force (pmf), V-ATPases function exclusively as ATP-dependent proton pumps. The pmf generated by V-ATPases in organelles and membranes of eukaryotic cells is utilized as a driving force for numerous secondary transport processes. The mechanistic and structural relations between the two enzymes prompted us to suggest similar functional units in V-ATPase as was proposed to F-ATPase and to assign some of the V-ATPase subunit to one of four parts of a mechanochemical machine: a catalytic unit, a shaft, a hook, and a proton turbine. It was the yeast genetics that allowed the identification of special properties of individual subunits and the discovery of factors that are involved in the enzyme biogenesis and assembly. The V-ATPases play a major role as energizers of animal plasma membranes, especially apical plasma membranes of epithelial cells. This role was first recognized in plasma membranes of lepidopteran midgut and vertebrate kidney. The list of animals with plasma membranes that are energized by V-ATPases now includes members of most, if not all, animal phyla. This includes the classical Na+ absorption by frog skin, male fertility through acidification of the sperm acrosome and the male reproductive tract, bone resorption by mammalian osteoclasts, and regulation of eye pressure. V-ATPase may function in Na+ uptake by trout gills and energizes water secretion by contractile vacuoles in Dictyostelium. V-ATPase was first detected in organelles connected with the vacuolar system. It is the main if not the only primary energy source for numerous transport systems in these organelles. The driving force for the accumulation of neurotransmitters into synaptic vesicles is pmf generated by V-ATPase. The acidification of lysosomes, which are required for the proper function of most of their enzymes, is provided by V-ATPase. The enzyme is also vital for the proper function of endosomes and the Golgi apparatus. In contrast to yeast vacuoles that 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 alga maintain internal pH as low as 0.1 in their vacuoles. One of the outstanding questions in the field is how such a conserved enzyme as the V-ATPase can fulfill such diverse functions.
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