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Architecture of the mitochondrial calcium uniporter

Nature volume 533, pages 269273 (12 May 2016) | Download Citation


Mitochondria from many eukaryotic clades take up large amounts of calcium (Ca2+) via an inner membrane transporter called the uniporter. Transport by the uniporter is membrane potential dependent and sensitive to ruthenium red or its derivative Ru360 (ref. 1). Electrophysiological studies have shown that the uniporter is an ion channel with remarkably high conductance and selectivity2. Ca2+ entry into mitochondria is also known to activate the tricarboxylic acid cycle and seems to be crucial for matching the production of ATP in mitochondria with its cytosolic demand3. Mitochondrial calcium uniporter (MCU) is the pore-forming and Ca2+-conducting subunit of the uniporter holocomplex, but its primary sequence does not resemble any calcium channel studied to date. Here we report the structure of the pore domain of MCU from Caenorhabditis elegans, determined using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electron microscopy (EM). MCU is a homo-oligomer in which the second transmembrane helix forms a hydrophilic pore across the membrane. The channel assembly represents a new solution of ion channel architecture, and is stabilized by a coiled-coil motif protruding into the mitochondrial matrix. The critical DXXE motif forms the pore entrance, which features two carboxylate rings; based on the ring dimensions and functional mutagenesis, these rings appear to form the selectivity filter. To our knowledge, this is one of the largest membrane protein structures characterized by NMR, and provides a structural blueprint for understanding the function of this channel.

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Primary accessions

Biological Magnetic Resonance Data Bank

Protein Data Bank

Data deposits

The atomic structure coordinate and structural constraints are deposited in the Protein Data Bank (PDB) under the accession number 5ID3. The chemical shift values are deposited in the Biological Magnetic Resonance Data Bank (BMRB) under the accession number 30021.


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We thank Y. Balazs for helping with ITC measurement and data analysis and Y. Zhang and M. Cao from the EM facility of NCPSS for their assistance with EM data collection. The NMR data were collected at the NMR facility of NCPSS and MIT-Harvard CMR (supported by NIH grant P41 EB-002026). This work was supported by CAS grant XDB08030301 and NIH grant GM094608 to J.J.C. V.K.M. is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Y.C. is supported by CAS grant XDB08030201. C.C. is supported by the China Scholarship Council.

Author information

Author notes

    • Kirill Oxenoid
    • , Ying Dong
    • , Chan Cao
    •  & Tanxing Cui

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA

    • Kirill Oxenoid
    • , Chan Cao
    • , Tanxing Cui
    •  & James J. Chou
  2. State Key Laboratory of Molecular Biology, National Center for Protein Science Shanghai, Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Shanghai Science Research Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200031, China

    • Ying Dong
    • , Liangliang Kong
    • , Zhijun Liu
    • , Bo Ouyang
    • , Yao Cong
    •  & James J. Chou
  3. State Key Laboratory of Elemento-Organic Chemistry and College of Chemistry, Nankai University, Tianjin 300071, China

    • Chan Cao
  4. Department of Molecular Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA

    • Yasemin Sancak
    • , Andrew L. Markhard
    • , Zenon Grabarek
    •  & Vamsi K. Mootha


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T.C., Y.D., Y.S., C.C., V.K.M. and J.J.C. conceived the study; T.C., Y.S. and C.C. designed protein constructs for structural studies; C.C. and K.O. performed inhibitor binding studies; Y.S., A.L.M. and Z.G. performed structure guided functional experiments and analysis; Y.D., L.K. and Y.C. prepared EM samples and performed EM analysis. K.O., T.C., C.C. and J.J.C. collected NMR data and solved the structure; V.K.M., J.J.C. and K.O. wrote the paper and all authors contributed to editing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to James J. Chou.

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