- Zinc activates a specific Zn2+-sensing receptor, ZnR/GPR39, and thereby triggers cellular signaling leading to epithelial cell proliferation and survival. Epithelial cells that express ZnR, particularly colonocytes, face frequent changes in extracellular pH that are of physiological and pathological implication. Here we show that the ZnR/GPR39-dependent Ca2+ responses in HT29 colonocytes were maximal at pH 7.4 but were reduced by about 50% at pH 7.7 and by about 62% at pH 7.1 and were completely abolished at pH 6.5. Intracellular acidification did not attenuate ZnR/GPR39 activity, indicating that the pH sensor of this protein is located on an extracellular domain. ZnR/GPR39-dependent activation of extracellular-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 or AKT pathways was abolished at acidic extracellular pH of 6.5. A similar inhibitory effect was monitored for the ZnR/GPR39-dependent up-regulation of Na+/H+ exchange activity at pH 6.5. Focusing on residues putatively facing the extracellular domain, we sought to identify the pH sensor of ZnR/GPR39. Replacing the histidine residues forming the Zn2+ binding site, His17 or His19, or other extracellular-facing histidines to alanine residues did not abolish the pH dependence of ZnR/GPR39. In contrast, replacing Asp313 with alanine resulted in similar Ca2+ responses triggered by ZnR/GPR39 at pH 7.4 or 6.5. This mutant also showed similar activation of ERK1/2 and AKT pathways, and ZnR-dependent up-regulation of Na+/H+ exchange at pH 7.4 and pH 6.5. Substitution of Asp313 to His or Glu residues restored pH sensitivity of the receptor. This indicates that Asp313, which was shown to modulate Zn2+ binding, is an essential residue of the pH sensor of GPR39. In conclusion, ZnR/GPR39 is tuned to sense physiologically relevant changes in extracellular pH that thus regulate ZnR-dependent signaling and ion transport activity.