Thiol-dependent membrane transport of selenium through an integral protein of the red blood cell membrane.
The molecular details of the selenium metabolism and transport in living systems are still not completely understood, despite their physiological importance. Specifically, little is known about the membrane transport of selenium from most of the selenium containing compounds. In the present study, we investigated the mechanism for the membrane transport of selenium from red blood cells (RBCs) to the blood plasma. When the selenium distribution in the RBC ghost membrane after treatment with selenious acid was analyzed, nearly 70% of the selenium in the membrane was found to bind to the anion exchanger 1 (AE1) protein, which suggested that the integral protein AE1 is responsible for the membrane transport of selenium. The thiol dependency of the selenium export from the RBC to the blood plasma was examined using membrane permeable thiol reagents, i.e., N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) and tetrathionate (TTN). Treatment of the RBC with NEM, a thiol-alkylating reagent, resulted in modification of the thiol groups in the amino-terminal cytoplasmic domain (N-CPD) of the AE1, but not those in the membrane domain. Such an NEM treatment provided a marked inhibition of the selenium export from the RBC to the blood plasma. In addition, the treatment with TTN, a thiol-oxidizing reagent that forms intermolecular disulfide bonds, appeared to oxidize thiol groups in both the N-CPD and the membrane domain of AE1, which resulted in complete inhibition of the selenium export even during the initial period in which the export had a maximum velocity when using the thiol reagent-free treatment. Such complete inhibition of the selenium export from the TTN-treated RBC appeared to be due to the oligomerized AE1 proteins resulting from the intermolecularly formed disulfide bonds. These inhibitory effects using NEM and TTN suggested that thiol groups in the integral protein AE1 play essential roles in the membrane transport of the selenium from the RBCs to the blood plasma.