TMEM16A and TMEM16B are plasma membrane proteins with Ca2+ -dependent Cl- channel function. By replacing the carboxy-terminus of TMEM16A with the equivalent region of TMEM16B, we obtained channels with potentiation of channel activity. Progressive shortening of the chimeric region restricted the "activating domain" to a short sequence close to the last transmembrane domain and led to TMEM16A channels with high activity at very low intracellular Ca2+ concentrations. To elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying this effect, we carried out experiments based on double chimeras, Forster resonance energy transfer, and intermolecular cross-linking. We also modeled TMEM16A structure using the Nectria haematococca TMEM16 protein as template. Our results indicate that the enhanced activity in chimeric channels is due to altered interaction between the carboxy-terminus and the first intracellular loop in the TMEM16A homo-dimer. Mimicking this perturbation with a small molecule could be the basis for a pharmacological stimulation of TMEM16A-dependent Cl- transport.
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