Divalent cation modulation of ion permeation in tmem16 proteins

Dung M. Nguyen, Hwoi Chan Kwon, Tsung Yu Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Intracellular divalent cations control the molecular function of transmembrane protein 16 (TMEM16) family members. Both anion channels (such as TMEM16A) and phospholipid scramblases (such as TMEM16F) in this family are activated by intracellular Ca2+ in the low μM range. In addition, intracellular Ca2+ or Co2+ at mM concentrations have been shown to further potentiate the saturated Ca2+‐activated current of TMEM16A. In this study, we found that all alkaline earth divalent cations in mM concentrations can generate similar potentiation effects in TMEM16A when applied intracellularly, and that manipulations thought to deplete membrane phospholipids weaken the effect. In comparison, mM concentrations of divalent cations minimally potentiate the current of TMEM16F but significantly change its cation/anion selectivity. We suggest that divalent cations may increase local concentrations of permeant ions via a change in pore electrostatic potential, possibly acting through phospholipid head groups in or near the pore. Monovalent cations appear to exert a similar effect, although with a much lower affinity. Our findings resolve controversies regarding the ion selectivity of TMEM16 proteins. The physiological role of this mechanism, however, remains elusive because of the nearly constant high cation concentrations in cytosols.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2209
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Divalent cations
  • Permeability ratio
  • Phospholipids
  • TMEM16A
  • TMEM16F

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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