Background: Pea albumin 1b (PA1b) is a potent and selective inhibitor of insect vacuolar ATPase, but its mechanism is poorly understood.
Results: PA1b binds the extracellular surface of the c ring and contacts subunit e.
Conclusion: PA1b inhibits V-ATPase by blocking transition of its rotor past subunit e.
Significance: This reveals insights into the mechanics and mode of inhibition of the V-ATPase.
The vacuolar ATPase (V-ATPase) is a 1MDa transmembrane proton pump that operates via a rotary mechanism fuelled by ATP. Essential for eukaryotic cell homeostasis, it plays central roles in bone remodeling and tumor invasiveness, making it a key therapeutic target. Its importance in arthropod physiology also makes it a promising pesticide target. The major challenge in designing lead compounds against the V-ATPase is its ubiquitous nature, such that any therapeutic must be capable of targeting particular isoforms. Here, we have characterized the binding site on the V-ATPase of pea albumin 1b (PA1b), a small cystine knot protein that shows exquisitely selective inhibition of insect V-ATPases. Electron microscopy shows that PA1b binding occurs across a range of equivalent sites on the c ring of the membrane domain. In the presence of Mg·ATP, PA1b localizes to a single site, distant from subunit a, which is predicted to be the interface for other inhibitors. Photoaffinity labeling studies show radiolabeling of subunits c and e. In addition, weevil resistance to PA1b is correlated with bafilomycin resistance, caused by mutation of subunit c. The data indicate a binding site to which both subunits c and e contribute and inhibition that involves locking the c ring rotor to a static subunit e and not subunit a. This has implications for understanding the V-ATPase mechanism and that of inhibitors with therapeutic or pesticidal potential. It also provides the first evidence for the position of subunit e within the complex.