Background: Cystic fibrosis (CF) results from mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, which encodes a chloride channel localized at the plasma membrane of diverse epithelia. The most common mutation leading to CF, Delta F508, occurs in the first nucleotide-binding domain (NBD1) of CFTR. The Delta F508 mutation disrupts protein processing, leading to a decreased level of mutant channels at the plasma membrane and reduced transepithelial chloride permeability. Partial correction of the Delta F508 molecular defect in vitro is achieved by incubation of cells with several classes of chemical chaperones, indicating that further investigation of novel small molecules is warranted as a means for producing new therapies for CF.
Materials and methods: The yeast two-hybrid assay was used to study the effect of CF-causing mutations on the ability of NBD1 to self-associate and form dimers. A yeast strain demonstrating defective growth as a result of impaired NBD1 dimerization due to Delta F508 was used as a drug discovery bioassay for the identification of plant natural product compounds restoring mutant NBD1 interaction. Active compounds were purified and the chemical structures determined. The purified compounds were tested in epithelial cells expressing CFTR Delta F508 and the resulting effect on transepithelial chloride permeability was assessed using short-circuit chloride current measurements.
Results: Wild-type NBD1 of CFTR forms homodimers in a yeast two-hybrid assay. CF-causing mutations within NBD1 that result in defective processing of CFTR (Delta F508, Delta I507, and S549R) disrupted NBD1 interaction in yeast. In contrast, a CF-causing mutation that does not impair CFTR processing (G551D) had no effect on NBD1 dimerization. Using the yeast-based assay, we identified a novel limonoid compound (TS3) that corrected the Delta F508 NBD1 dimerization defect in yeast and also increased the chloride permeability of Fisher Rat Thyroid (FRT) cells stably expressing CFTR Delta F508.
Conclusion: The establishment of a phenotype for the Delta F508 mutation in the yeast two-hybrid system yielded a simple assay for the identification of small molecules that interact with the mutant NBD1 and restore dimerization. The natural product compound identified using the system (TS3) was found to increase chloride conductance in epithelial cells to an extent comparable to genistein, a known CFTR activator. The yeast system will thus be useful for further identification of compounds with potential for CF drug therapy.