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Activation of the sensory nerve ion channel TRPA1 by electrophiles is the key mechanism that initiates nociceptive signaling, and leads to defensive reflexes and avoidance behaviors, during oxidative stress in mammals. TRPA1 is rapidly activated by subtoxic levels of electrophiles, but it is unclear how TRPA1 outcompetes cellular antioxidants that protect cytosolic proteins from electrophiles. Here, using physiologically relevant exposures, we demonstrate that electrophiles react with cysteine residues on mammalian TRPA1 at rates that exceed the reactivity of typical cysteines by 6,000-fold and that also exceed the reactivity of antioxidant enzymes. We show that TRPA1 possesses a complex reactive cysteine profile in which C621 is necessary for electrophile-induced binding and activation. Modeling of deprotonation energies suggests that K620 contributes to C621 reactivity and mutation of K620 alone greatly reduces the effect of electrophiles on TRPA1. Nevertheless, binding of electrophiles to C621 is not sufficient for activation, which also depends on the function of another reactive cysteine (C665). Together, our results demonstrate that TRPA1 acts as an effective electrophilic sensor because of the exceptionally high reactivity of C621.

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Journal of General Physiology, v. 147, no. 6, p. 451-465

© 2016 Bahia et al. This article is distributed under the terms of an Attribution– Noncommercial–Share Alike–No Mirror Sites license for the first six months after the publication date (see /terms). After six months it is available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, as described at http ://creativecommons .org /licenses /by -nc -sa /3.0/).