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Open Access Research article

Subcellular localization of ammonium transporters in Dictyostelium discoideum

Janet H Kirsten1, Yanhua Xiong1, Carter T Davis2 and Charles K Singleton1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, VU Station B 351634, Nashville TN 37235-1634, USA

2 LSU School of Medicine – New Orleans, 2020 Gravier Street, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2008, 9:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-9-71

Published: 24 December 2008

Abstract

Background

With the exception of vertebrates, most organisms have plasma membrane associated ammonium transporters which primarily serve to import a source of nitrogen for nutritional purposes. Dictyostelium discoideum has three ammonium transporters, Amts A, B and C. Our present work used fluorescent fusion proteins to determine the cellular localization of the Amts and tested the hypothesis that the transporters mediate removal of ammonia generated endogenously from the elevated protein catabolism common to many protists.

Results

Using RFP and YFP fusion constructs driven by the actin 15 promoter, we found that the three ammonium transporters were localized on the plasma membrane and on the membranes of subcellular organelles. AmtA and AmtB were localized on the membranes of endolysosomes and phagosomes, with AmtB further localized on the membranes of contractile vacuoles. AmtC also was localized on subcellular organelles when it was stabilized by coexpression with either the AmtA or AmtB fusion transporter. The three ammonium transporters exported ammonia linearly with regard to time during the first 18 hours of the developmental program as revealed by reduced export in the null strains. The fluorescently tagged transporters rescued export when expressed in the null strains, and thus they were functional transporters.

Conclusion

Unlike ammonium transporters in most organisms, which import NH3/NH4+ as a nitrogen source, those of Dictyostelium export ammonia/ammonium as a waste product from extensive catabolism of exogenously derived and endogenous proteins. Localization on proteolytic organelles and on the neutral contractile vacuole suggests that Dictyostelium ammonium transporters may have unique subcellular functions and play a role in the maintenance of intracellular ammonium distribution. A lack of correlation between the null strain phenotypes and ammonia excretion properties of the ammonium transporters suggests that it is not the excretion function that is important for coupling ammonia levels to the slug versus culmination choice, but rather a sensor and/or signaling function of these proteins that is important.