V-ATPase (vesicular H+-ATPase)-driven intravesicular acidification is crucial for vesicular trafficking. Defects in vesicular acidification and trafficking have recently been recognized as essential determinants of various human diseases. An important role of endosomal acidification in receptor–ligand dissociation and in activation of lysosomal hydrolytic enzymes is well established. However, the molecular mechanisms by which luminal pH information is transmitted to the cytosolic small GTPases that control trafficking events such as budding, coat formation and fusion are unknown. Here, we discuss our recent discovery that endosomal V-ATPase is a pH-sensor regulating the degradative pathway. According to our model, V-ATPase is responsible for: (i) the generation of a pH gradient between vesicular membranes; (ii) sensing of intravesicular pH; and (iii) transmitting this information to the cytosolic side of the membrane. We also propose the hypothetical molecular mechanism involved in function of the V-ATPase a2-subunit as a putative pH-sensor. Based on extensive experimental evidence on the crucial role of histidine residues in the function of PSPs (pH-sensing proteins) in eukaryotic cells, we hypothesize that pH-sensitive histidine residues within the intra-endosomal loops and/or C-terminal luminal tail of the a2-subunit could also be involved in the pH-sensing function of V-ATPase. However, in order to identify putative pH-sensitive histidine residues and to test this hypothesis, it is absolutely essential that we increase our understanding of the folding and transmembrane topology of the a-subunit isoforms of V-ATPase. Thus the crucial role of intra-endosomal histidine residues in pH-dependent conformational changes of the V-ATPase a2-isoform, its interaction with cytosolic small GTPases and ultimately in its acidification-dependent regulation of the endosomal/lysosomal protein degradative pathway remain to be determined.

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