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- Karol Fiedorczuk
- Jue Chen
Small molecule chaperones have been exploited as therapeutics for the hundreds of diseases caused by protein misfolding. The most successful examples are the CFTR correctors, which transformed cystic fibrosis therapy. These molecules revert folding defects of the ΔF508 mutant and are widely used to treat patients. However, their mechanism of action is unknown. Here we present cryo-electron microscopy structures of CFTR in complex with two FDA-approved correctors: lumacaftor and tezacaftor. Both drugs insert into a hydrophobic pocket in the first transmembrane domain (TMD1), linking together four helices that are thermodynamically unstable. Mutating residues at the binding site rendered ΔF508-CFTR insensitive to lumacaftor and tezacaftor, underscoring the functional significance of the structural discovery. These results support a mechanism in which the correctors stabilize TMD1 at an early stage of biogenesis, prevent its pre-mature degradation, and thereby allosterically rescue a large number of disease-causing mutations.