Membrane proteins that belong to the major facilitator superfamily (MFS) are found in organisms across the evolutionary spectrum and mediate the transport of a variety of substrates ranging from small metabolites to neurotransmitters. The oxalate transporter (OxIT) is a representative MFS protein, and exchanges formate for oxalate across the cytoplasmic membrane of the organism Oxalobacter formigenes. Here, we present a structural model for the protein conformational changes that occur during oxalate transport by combining a three-dimensional map of the oxalate-bound, "closed" state of OxIT at 6.5 Å determined by cryo-electron microscopy with a model of the "open" state of OxIT based on the atomic structures of the related transporters, glycerol-3-phosphate transporter (GIpT) and lactose permease (LacY). We demonstrate that the principal structural change associated with substrate transport is a concerted rocking movement of the two structurally similar halves of the protein relative to each other. Our structural model places two positively charged residues, Arg-272 and Lys-355 in the central cavity, suggesting that electrostatic interactions between these residues and the oxalate anion is a key step in generating the conformational change between the open and closed states of the transporter.
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