Zurich – Scientists in Zurich have used cryo-electron microscopy to determine the architecture of the chloride channel TMEM16A. Their findings could help develop new drugs to treat the lung disease cystic fibrosis.

Swiss scientist Jacques Dubochet and two of his German colleagues won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of cryo-electron microscopy. The technology facilitates detailed visualization of viruses and membrane proteins.

Thanks to cryo-electron microscopy, scientists at the University of Zurich (UZH) have now made an important discovery that could help fight the lung disease cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is a severe hereditary disease for which there is currently no cure. The disease is caused by a malfunction of the chloride channel CFTR, which leads to dehydration of the mucus layer in the lung.

A promising approach for treating cystic fibrosis is the activation of an alternative ion route – the calcium-activated chloride channel TMEM16A. UZH scientists have now determined the architecture of this channel.

“The molecular architecture of this membrane protein is crucial for the targeted development of drugs for treating cystic fibrosis,” explained Professor Raimund Dutzler in a statement. “Substances leading to the activation of the TMEM16A would compensate the defect in the secretion of chloride ions in the lung.”

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