The functional roles of the two nucleotide binding folds, NBF1 and NBF2, in the activation of the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) were investigated by measuring the rates of activation and deactivation of CFTR Cl- conductance in Xenopus oocytes. Activation of wild-type CFTR in response to application of forskolin and 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (IBMX) was described by a single exponential. Deactivation after washout of the cocktail consisted of two phases: an initial slow phase, described by a latency, and an exponential decline. Rate analysis of CFTR variants bearing analogous mutations in NBF1 and NBF2 permitted us to characterize amino acid substitutions according to their effects on the accessibility and stability of the active state. Access to the active state was very sensitive to substitutions for the invariant glycine (G551) in NBF1, where mutations to alanine (A), serine (S), or aspartic acid (D) reduced the apparent on rate by more than tenfold. The analogous substitutions in NBF2 (G1349) also reduced the on rate, by twofold to 10-fold, but substantially destabilized the active state as well, as judged by increased deactivation rates. In the putative ATP-binding pocket of either NBF, substitution of alanine, glutamine (Q), or arginine (R) for the invariant lysine (K464 or K1250) reduced the on rate similarly, by two- to fourfold. In contrast, these analogous substitutions produced opposite effects on the deactivation rate. NBF1 mutations destabilized the active state, whereas the analogous substitutions in NBF2 stabilized the active state such that activation was prolonged compared with that seen with wild-type CFTR. Substitution of asparagine (N) for a highly conserved aspartic acid (D572) in the ATP-binding pocket of NBF1 dramatically slowed the on rate and destabilized the active state. In contrast, the analogous substitution in NBF2 (D1370N) did not appreciably affect the on rate and markedly stabilized the active state. These results are consistent with a hypothesis for CFTR activation that invokes the binding and hydrolysis of ATP at NBF1 as a crucial step in activation, while at NBF2, ATP binding enhances access to the active state, but the rate of ATP hydrolysis controls the duration of the active state. The relatively slow time courses for activation and deactivation suggest that slow processes modulate ATP-dependent gating.

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