The cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) forms a chloride channel that is regulated by phosphorylation and ATP binding. Work by others suggested that some residues in the sixth transmembrane segment (M6) might be exposed in the channel and play a role in ion conduction and selectivity. To identify the residues in M6 that are exposed in the channel and the secondary structure of M6, we used the substituted cysteine accessibility method. We mutated to cysteine, one at a time, 24 consecutive residues in and flanking the M6 segment and expressed these mutants in Xenopus oocytes. We determined the accessibility of the engineered cysteines to charged, lipophobic, sulfhydryl-specific methanethiosulfonate (MTS) reagents applied extracellularly. The cysteines substituted for Ile331, Leu333, Arg334, Lys335, Phe337, Ser341, Ile344, Arg347, Thr351, Arg352, and Gln353 reacted with the MTS reagents, and we infer that they are exposed on the water-accessible surface of the protein. From the pattern of the exposed residues we infer that the secondary structure of the M6 segment includes both α-helical and extended regions. The diameter of the channel from the extracellular end to the level of Gln353 must be at least 6 Å to allow the MTS reagents to reach these residues.
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