We are investigating the physiological roles of organelle acidification in yeast by two different approaches. First, we have identified two mutants which are defective in acidification of the yeast lysosome-like vacuole from among a collection of mutants which mis-sort soluble vacuolar proteins to the cell surface. These mutants have been helpful in identifying other cellular functions linked to acidification, such as the activation of vacuolar zymogens. We have complemented this classical genetic approach to acidification with direct biochemical and reverse genetic studies on the yeast vacuolar proton-translocating ATPase (H+-ATPase), the enzyme responsible for vacuolar network acidification. Our biochemical characterization of this enzyme indicates that it is a multisubunit complex with many structural similarities to other vacuolar H+-ATPases. Like the other vacuolar H+-ATPases characterized, it also shares some structural features with the F1F0-type ATPases of mitochondria, chloroplasts, and Escherichia coli. We are currently cloning the genes for the subunits of the yeast vacuolar H+-ATPase. Mutagenesis of the cloned genes will allow us to determine the phenotype of yeast cells expressing a vacuolar H+-ATPase altered in well controlled ways. We are also beginning to investigate how the subunits of the vacuolar H+-ATPase are assembled into the enzyme complex and targeted to their proper cellular location.

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