Cysteine scanning has been widely used to identify pore-lining residues in mammalian ion channels, including the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR). These studies, however, have been typically conducted at room temperature rather than human body temperature. Reports of substantial effects of temperature on gating and anion conduction in CFTR channels as well as an unexpected pattern of cysteine reactivity in the sixth transmembrane segment (TM6) prompted us to investigate the effect of temperature on the reactivity of cysteines engineered into TM6 of CFTR. We compared reaction rates at temperatures ranging from 22 to 37 °C for cysteines placed on either side of an apparent size-selective accessibility barrier previously defined by comparing reactivity toward channel-permeant and channel-impermeant, thiol-directed reagents. The results indicate that the reactivity of cysteines at three positions extracellular to the position of the accessibility barrier, 334, 336, and 337, is highly temperature-dependent. At 37 °C, cysteines at these positions were highly reactive toward MTSES -, whereas at 22 °C, the reaction rates were 2-6-fold slower to undetectable. An activation energy of 157 kJ/mol for the reaction at position 337 is consistent with the hypothesis that, at physiological temperature, the extracellular portion of the CFTR pore can adopt conformations that differ significantly from those that can be accessed at room temperature. However, the position of the accessibility barrier defined empirically by applying channel-permeant and channel-impermeant reagents to the extracellular aspect of the pore is not altered. The results illuminate previous scanning results and indicate that the assay temperature is a critical variable in studies designed to use chemical modification to test structural models for the CFTR anion conduction pathway.
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