A novel Saccharomyces cerevisiae mutant, unable to grow in the presence of 12.5 mmol l-1 EGTA, was isolated. The phenotype of the mutant is caused by a single amino acid change (Gly149 to Arg) in the essential yeast cell division cycle gene CDC1. The mutant could be suppressed by overexpression of the SMF1 gene, which codes for a plasma membrane Mn2+ transporter. We observed that the yeast SMF1 gene shares homology with the mouse Nramp gene. Nramp (Bcg) was cloned as a gene responsible for mouse resistance to infection with mycobacteria and is identical with the Ity and the Lsh genes conferring resistance to infection by Salmonella typhimurium and Leishmania donovani, respectively. Although the cloning of Nramp identified the gene responsible for the resistance of mice to mycobacteria, its function is unknown. We propose that the mammalian protein, like the yeast transporter, is a Mn2+ and/or Zn2+ transporter. Following the phagocytosis of a parasite into the phagosome, the macrophage produces reactive oxygen and/or nitrogen intermediates that are toxic for the internalized bacteria. The survival of the pathogen during the burst of macrophage respiratory activity is thought to be partly mediated by microbial superoxide dismutase (SOD), which contains Mn2+ or Fe2+ in its active centre. Nramp may transport Mn2+ from the extracellular milieu into the cytoplasm of a macrophage and, after the generation of the phagosome, remove Mn2+ from the organelle. Thus, the Mn(2+)-depletion of the phagosome microenvironment by the Nramp gene product may be a rate-limiting step in the metalloenzyme's production by the engulfed bacteria. This limitation will restrict the mycobacterial ability to produce active enzymes such as SOD and prevent the propagation of the ingested microorganisms. Conversely, an increased concentration of Mn2+ in the phagosome caused by a defective Nramp transporter (Bcgs) may promote the growth of the mycobacteria and render the organism sensitive to the pathogen. We use a similar approach to identify, clone and study other metal-ion transporters.

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