Phospholamban (PLB), a 52-amino acid protein, regulates the Ca-ATPase (calcium pump) in cardiac sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) through PLB phosphorylation mediated by β-adrenergic stimulation. The mobility of PLB on SDS-PAGE indicates a homopentamer, and it has been proposed that the pentameric structure of PLB is important for its regulatory function. However, the oligomeric structure of PLB must be determined in its native milieu, a lipid bilayer containing the Ca-ATPase. Here we have used fluorescence energy transfer (FET) to study the oligomeric structure of PLB in SDS and dioleoylphosphatidylcholine (DOPC) lipid bilayers reconstituted in the absence and presence of Ca-ATPase. PLB was labeled, specifically at Lys 3 in the cytoplasmic domain, with amine-reactive fluorescent donor/acceptor pairs. FET between donor- and acceptor-labeled subunits of PLB in SDS solution and DOPC lipid bilayers indicated the presence of PLB oligomers. The dependence of FET efficiency on the fraction of acceptor-labeled PLB in DOPC bilayers indicated that it is predominantly an oligomer having 9-11 subunits, with ~10% of the PLB as monomer, and the distance between dyes on adjacent PLB subunits is 0.9 ± 0.1 nm. When labeled PLB was reconstituted with purified Ca-ATPase, FET indicated the depolymerization of PLB into smaller oligomers having an average of 5 subunits, with a concomitant increase in the fraction of monomer to 30-40% and a doubling of the intersubunit distance. We conclude that PLB exists primarily as an oligomer in membranes, and the Ca- ATPase affects the structure of this oligomer, but the Ca-ATPase binds preferentially to the monomer and/or small oligomers. These results suggest that the active inhibitory species of PLB is a monomer or an oligomer having fewer than 5 subunits.
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