The G551D cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) mutation is associated with severe disease in ∼5% of cystic fibrosis patients worldwide. This amino acid substitution in NBD1 results in a CFTR chloride channel characterized by a severe gating defect that can be at least partially overcome in vitro by exposure to a CFTR potentiator. In contrast, the more common ΔF508 mutation is associated with a severe protein trafficking defect, as well as impaired channel function. Recent clinical trials demonstrated a beneficial effect of the CFTR potentiator, Ivacaftor (VX-770), on lung function of patients bearing at least one copy of G551D CFTR, but no comparable effect on ΔF508 homozygotes. This difference in efficacy was not surprising in view of the established difference in the molecular phenotypes of the two mutant channels. Recently, however, it was shown that the structural defect introduced by the deletion of F508 is associated with the thermal instability of ΔF508 CFTR channel function in vitro. This additional mutant phenotype raised the possibility that the differences in the behavior of ΔF508 and G551D CFTR, as well as the disparate efficacy of Ivacaftor, might be a reflection of the differing thermal stabilities of the two channels at 37 °C. We compared the thermal stability of G551D and ΔF508 CFTR in Xenopus oocytes in the presence and absence of CTFR potentiators. G551D CFTR exhibited a thermal instability that was comparable to that of ΔF508 CFTR. G551D CFTR, however, was protected from thermal instability by CFTR potentiators, whereas ΔF508 CFTR was not. These results suggest that the efficacy of VX-770 in patients bearing the G551D mutation is due, at least in part, to the ability of the small molecule to protect the mutant channel from thermal instability at human body temperature.
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