The human BCRP (breast cancer resistance protein, also known as ABCG2) is an ABC (ATP-binding cassette) transporter that extrudes various anticancer drugs from cells, causing multidrug resistance. To study the molecular determinants of drug specificity of BCRP in more detail, we have expressed wild-type BCRP (BCRP-R) and the drug-selected cancer cell line-associated R482G (Arg482→Gly) mutant BCRP (BCRP-G) in Lactococcus lactis. Drug resistance and the rate of drug efflux in BCRP-expressing cells were proportional to the expression level of the protein and affected by the R482G mutation, pointing to a direct role of BCRP in drug transport in L. lactis. In agreement with observations in mammalian cells, the BCRP-R-mediated transport of the cationic substrates rhodamine 123 and tetramethylrosamine was significantly decreased compared with the activity of BCRP-G. In addition, BCRP-R showed an enhanced interaction with the anionic anticancer drug methotrexate when compared with BCRP-G, suggesting that structure/substrate specificity relationships in BCRP, as observed in eukaryotic expression systems, are maintained in prokaryotic L. lactis. Interestingly, BCRP-R exhibited a previously unestablished ability to transport antibiotics, unconjugated sterols and primary bile acids in L. lactis, for which the R482G mutation was not critical. Since Arg482 is predicted to be present in the intracellular domain of BCRP, close to transmembrane segment 3, our results point to a role of this residue in electrostatic interactions with charged substrates including rhodamine 123 and methotrexate. Since unconjugated sterols are neutral molecules and bile acids and many antibiotics are engaged in protonation/deprotonation equilibria at physiological pH, our observations may point either to a lack of interaction between Arg482 and neutral or neutralized moieties in these substrates during transport or to the interaction of these substrates with regions in BCRP not including Arg482.

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