Current from calcium activated chloride channels (CaCCs) has been well described in dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons where (due to high intracellular chloride concentration), the nature of CaCC opening is excitatory. In addition, CaCC expression is upregulated in DRG neurons following nerve injury, leading to a possible role in neuropathic pain or regeneration. Our goal is to further understand this channel and the role it plays in neuropathic pain, so that it may someday be used as a therapeutic target. Although CaCC current has been well described, the channel has only recently been identified as TMEM16A, a protein of previously unknown function. We hypothesize that the TMEM16A CaCC plays a role in DRG neuronal physiology. Preliminary studies on neonatal DRG neurons show that a subset of these neurons does indeed display a prominent CaCC current and RT-PCR from DRG tissue shows expression of the TMEM16a CaCC. In experiments on cultured DRG neurons from TMEM16a-/- mice, CaCC current is not observed, making it likely that TMEM16A is responsible for the DRG CaCC current. The initial goal of the projects presented here are to characterize DRG neurons displaying CaCC current using physiology and molecular techniques, then to examine the consequences of the loss of the TMEM16A channel. Following electrophysiological identification of CaCC-positive DRG neurons, single-cell RT-PCR will be performed to determine which cells express TMEM16A. An antibody developed to recognize the TMEM16A protein will be used to determine if there is a distinct subpopulation of DRG neurons that express the channel in the intact ganglia. Studies will then shift to examine the expression of TMEM16A during nerve injury. At a number of time points following sciatic nerve lesion, the expression of TMEM16a will be examined via quantitative RT-PCR. To determine if the distribution of TMEM16A shifts following nerve injury, immunohistochemistry will be performed and compared to the control results obtained previously. Finally, the function of TMEM16A following nerve injury will be investigated. A novel technique will be used wherein TMEM16a-/- neurons are generated in a heterozygous background via somatic recombination (MADM). The ability of these individual neurons to regenerate will be studied using lesion studies as previously described.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of this project is to better understand the calcium activated chloride channel in primary sensory neurons. This ion channel protein is likely upregulated following nerve injury and may play a role in nerve regeneration or neuropathic pain. Using genetic tools and physiology techniques, we hope to elucidate the function of this important protein.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F03B-H (20))
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Silberberg, Shai D
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University of California San Francisco
Schools of Medicine
San Francisco
United States
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Berg, Jim; Yang, Huanghe; Jan, Lily Yeh (2012) Ca2+-activated Cl- channels at a glance. J Cell Sci 125:1367-71