Multidrug-resistance-associated protein (MRP) is a member of the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) membrane-transport superfamily and is responsible for multidrug resistance in cancer cells. Distinct from other members of the ABC superfamily, MRP has three membrane-spanning domains (MSDs) and the N-terminus is located extracellularly. It has been shown that the first MSD (MSD1) with an extracellular N-terminus is important for MRP function. To address what ensures the generation of this structural organization of MRP and to understand in general the molecular mechanism of membrane folding of polytopic proteins with extracellular N-termini, the biogenesis of MSD1 in human MRP1 was examined using an in vitro expression system. Surprisingly, the second transmembrane segment (TM2) in MSD1 was found to play a critical role in the correct membrane translocation and folding of MSD1 in human MRP1. TM2 not only plays an essential role to ensure the N-terminus-outside/C-terminus-inside orientation of TM1 with an extracellular N-terminus, it can also translocate into membranes post-translationally in a signal-recognition particle and ribosome-dependent manner to provide an additional insurance for correct folding of MSD1 in MRP. These findings suggest that TM2 in a polytopic membrane protein with an extracellular N-terminus may play a critical role in controlling correct membrane translocation and folding of the protein in general.

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