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Concept: G protein-coupled receptor


G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) play essential roles in various physiological processes, and are widely targeted by pharmaceutical drugs. Despite their importance, studying GPCRs has been problematic due to difficulties in isolating large quantities of these membrane proteins in forms that retain their ligand binding capabilities. Creating water-soluble variants of GPCRs by mutating the exterior, transmembrane residues provides a potential method to overcome these difficulties. Here we present the first study involving the computational design, expression and characterization of water-soluble variant of a human GPCR, the human mu opioid receptor (MUR), which is involved in pain and addiction. An atomistic structure of the transmembrane domain was built using comparative (homology) modeling and known GPCR structures. This structure was highly similar to the subsequently determined structure of the murine receptor and was used to computationally design 53 mutations of exterior residues in the transmembrane region, yielding a variant intended to be soluble in aqueous media. The designed variant expressed in high yield in Escherichia coli and was water soluble. The variant shared structural and functionally related features with the native human MUR, including helical secondary structure and comparable affinity for the antagonist naltrexone (K d  = 65 nM). The roles of cholesterol and disulfide bonds on the stability of the receptor variant were also investigated. This study exemplifies the potential of the computational approach to produce water-soluble variants of GPCRs amenable for structural and functionally related characterization in aqueous solution.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Receptor, Opioid receptor, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Solutions


A highly crystallizable T4 lysozyme (T4L) was fused to the N-terminus of the β(2) adrenergic receptor (β(2)AR), a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) for catecholamines. We demonstrate that the N-terminal fused T4L is sufficiently rigid relative to the receptor to facilitate crystallogenesis without thermostabilizing mutations or the use of a stabilizing antibody, G protein, or protein fused to the 3rd intracellular loop. This approach adds to the protein engineering strategies that enable crystallographic studies of GPCRs alone or in complex with a signaling partner.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Guanine nucleotide exchange factor, G protein, Beta-2 adrenergic receptor


Integrin clustering plays a pivotal role in a host of cell functions. Hetero-dimeric integrin adhesion receptors regulate cell migration, survival, and differentiation by communicating signals bidirectionally across the plasma membrane. Thus far, crystallographic structures of integrin components are solved only separately, and for some integrin types. Also, the sequence of interactions that leads to signal transduction remains ambiguous. Particularly, it remains controversial whether the homo-dimerization of integrin transmembrane domains occurs following the integrin activation (i.e. when integrin ectodomain is stretched out) or if it regulates integrin clustering. This study employs molecular dynamics modeling approaches to address these questions in molecular details and sheds light on the crucial effect of the plasma membrane. Conducting a normal mode analysis of the intact αllbβ3 integrin, it is demonstrated that the ectodomain and transmembrane-cytoplasmic domains are connected via a membrane-proximal hinge region, thus merely transmembrane-cytoplasmic domains are modeled. By measuring the free energy change and force required to form integrin homo-oligomers, this study suggests that the β-subunit homo-oligomerization potentially regulates integrin clustering, as opposed to α-subunit, which appears to be a poor regulator for the clustering process. If α-subunits are to regulate the clustering they should overcome a high-energy barrier formed by a stable lipid pack around them. Finally, an outside-in activation-clustering scenario is speculated, explaining how further loading the already-active integrin affects its homo-oligomerization so that focal adhesions grow in size.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Cell biology, Cell signaling, G protein-coupled receptor, Gibbs free energy, Normal mode


Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) is a critical regulator of platelet activation, mediating its actions through two G protein-coupled receptors, the P2Y(1) and P2Y(12) purinoceptors. Recently, we demonstrated that P2Y(1) and P2Y(12) purinoceptor activities are rapidly and reversibly modulated in human platelets, revealing that the underlying mechanism requires receptor internalization and subsequent trafficking as an essential part of this process. In this study we investigated the role of the small GTP-binding protein ADP ribosylation factor 6 (ARF6) in the internalization and function of P2Y(1) and P2Y(12) purinoceptors in human platelets. ARF6 has been implicated in the internalization of a number of GPCRs, although its precise molecular mechanism in this process remains unclear. In this study we show that activation of either P2Y(1) or P2Y(12) purinoceptors can stimulate ARF6 activity. Further blockade of ARF6 function either in cell lines or human platelets blocks P2Y purinoceptor internalization. This blockade of receptor internalization attenuates receptor resensitization. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Nm23-H1, a nucleoside diphosphate (NDP) kinase regulated by ARF6 which facilitates dynamin-dependent fission of coated vesicles during endocytosis, is also required for P2Y purinoceptor internalization. These data describe a novel function of ARF6 in the internalization of P2Y purinoceptors and demonstrate the integral importance of this small GTPase upon platelet ADP receptor function.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Adenosine triphosphate, Cell biology, Platelet, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Adenosine diphosphate, ADP ribosylation factor


Regulator of G protein Signaling 14 (RGS14) is a multifunctional scaffolding protein that integrates heterotrimeric G protein and H-Ras signaling pathways. RGS14 possesses an RGS domain that binds active Gαi/o-GTP subunits to promote GTP hydrolysis, and a G protein regulatory (GPR) motif that selectively binds inactive Gαi1/3-GDP subunits to form a stable heterodimer at cellular membranes. RGS14 also contains two tandem Ras/Rap-binding domains (RBDs) that bind H-Ras. Here we show that RGS14 preferentially binds activated H-Ras-GTP in live cells to enhance H-Ras cellular actions, and that this interaction is regulated by inactive Gαi1-GDP and GPCRs. Using bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) in live cells, we show that RGS14-Luciferase and active H-Ras(G/V)-Venus exhibit a robust BRET signal at the plasma membrane that is markedly enhanced in the presence of inactive Gαi1-GDP, but not active Gαi1-GTP. Active H-Ras(G/V) interacts with a native RGS14:Gαi1 complex in brain lysates, and co-expression of RGS14 and Gαi1 in PC12 cells greatly enhances H-Ras(G/V) stimulatory effects on neurite outgrowth. Stimulation of the Gαi-linked α2A-adrenergic receptor induces a conformational change in the Gαi1:RGS14:H-Ras(G/V) complex, which may allow subsequent regulation of the complex by other binding partners. Together, these findings indicate that inactive Gαi1-GDP enhances theaffinity of RGS14 for H-Ras-GTP in live cells, resulting in a ternary signaling complex that is further regulated by GPCRs.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, G protein-coupled receptor, Regulation, G protein, Administrative law, Guanosine triphosphate


G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) play indispensable physiological roles in cell proliferation, differentiation, and migration; therefore, identifying the mechanisms by which ligands bind to GPCRs is crucial for developing GPCR-targeting pharmaceutics and for understanding critical biological functions. Although some structural information is available regarding the interactions between GPCRs and their small molecule ligands, knowledge of how GPCRs interact with their corresponding macromolecule ligands, such as peptides and proteins, remains elusive. In this study, we have developed a novel strategy to investigate the precise ligand recognition mechanisms involved in the interaction of endothelin receptor type A (ETA) with its ligand, endothelin-1 (ET-1); we call this method “directed degeneration” method. Through flow cytometric screening of a randomized ETA library, statistical analysis of the identified sequences, and biochemical studies, the ligand interaction map was successfully obtained.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Signal transduction, Receptor, Lipid, Biochemistry, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor


G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) can initiate intracellular signalling cascades by coupling to an array of heterotrimeric G proteins and arrestin adaptor proteins. Understanding the contribution of each of these coupling options to GPCR signalling has been hampered by a paucity of tools to selectively perturb receptor function. Here we employ CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to eliminate selected G proteins (Gαq and Gα11) or arrestin2 and arrestin3 from HEK293 cells, together with the elimination of receptor phosphorylation sites, to define the relative contribution of G proteins, arrestins and receptor phosphorylation to the signalling outcomes of the free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4). A lack of FFA4-mediated elevation of intracellular [Ca2+] in Gαq/Gα11-null cells and agonist-mediated receptor internalization in arrestin2/3-null cells confirmed previously reported canonical signalling features of this receptor, thereby validating the genome-edited HEK293 cells. FFA4-mediated ERK1/2 activation was totally dependent on Gq/11 but intriguingly was substantially enhanced for FFA4 receptors lacking sites of regulated phosphorylation. This was not due to a simple lack of desensitization of Gq/11 signalling because the Gq/11-dependent calcium response was desensitized by both receptor phosphorylation and arrestin-dependent mechanisms whilst a substantially enhanced ERK1/2-response was only observed for receptors lacking phosphorylation sites and not in arrestin2/3-null cells. In conclusion, we validate CRISPR/Cas9 engineered HEK293 cells lacking Gq/11 or arrestin2/3 as systems for GPCR signalling research and employ these cells to reveal a previously unappreciated interplay of signalling pathways where receptor phosphorylation can impact on ERK1/2 signalling through a mechanism that is likely independent of arrestins.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Lipid, Membrane biology, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Arrestin, G protein


Numerous clinical conditions can lead to organ fibrosis and functional failure. There is a great need for therapies that could effectively target pathophysiological pathways involved in fibrosis. GPR40 and GPR84 are G protein-coupled receptors with free fatty acid ligands and are associated with metabolic and inflammatory disorders. Although GPR40 and GPR84 are involved in diverse physiological processes, no evidence has demonstrated the relevance of GPR40 and GPR84 in fibrosis pathways. Using PBI-4050 (3-pentylbenzeneacetic acid sodium salt), a synthetic analog of a medium-chain fatty acid that displays agonist and antagonist ligand affinity toward GPR40 and GPR84, respectively, we uncovered an antifibrotic pathway involving these receptors. In experiments using Gpr40- and Gpr84-knockout mice in models of kidney fibrosis (unilateral ureteral obstruction, long-term postacute ischemic injury, and adenine-induced chronic kidney disease), we found that GPR40 is protective and GPR84 is deleterious in these diseases. Moreover, through binding to GPR40 and GPR84, PBI-4050 significantly attenuated fibrosis in many injury contexts, as evidenced by the antifibrotic activity observed in kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas, and skin fibrosis models. Therefore, GPR40 and GPR84 may represent promising molecular targets in fibrosis pathways. We conclude that PBI-4050 is a first-in-class compound that may be effective for managing inflammatory and fibrosis-related diseases.

Concepts: Chronic kidney disease, Kidney, Fatty acid, Receptor, Organ, Receptor antagonist, Lipid, G protein-coupled receptor


The biological effects of cannabinoids, the major constituents of the ancient medicinal plantCannabis sativa(marijuana) are mediated by two members of the G-protein coupled receptor family, cannabinoid receptors 1 (CB1R) and 2. The CB1R is the prominent subtype in the central nervous system (CNS) and has drawn great attention as a potential therapeutic avenue in several pathological conditions, including neuropsychological disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, cannabinoids also modulate signal transduction pathways and exert profound effects at peripheral sites. Although cannabinoids have therapeutic potential, their psychoactive effects have largely limited their use in clinical practice. In this review, we briefly summarized our knowledge of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, focusing on the CB1R and the CNS, with emphasis on recent breakthroughs in the field. We aim to define several potential roles of cannabinoid receptors in the modulation of signaling pathways and in association with several pathophysiological conditions. We believe that the therapeutic significance of cannabinoids is masked by the adverse effects and here alternative strategies are discussed to take therapeutic advantage of cannabinoids.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Brain, Signal transduction, Receptor, Neuroscience, G protein-coupled receptor, Cannabinoid receptor, G protein


Cholesterol is a key component of cell membranes with a proven modulatory role on the function and ligand-binding properties of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Crystal structures of prototypical GPCRs such as the adenosine A2A receptor (A2AR) have confirmed that cholesterol finds stable binding sites at the receptor surface suggesting an allosteric role of this lipid. Here we combine experimental and computational approaches to show that cholesterol can spontaneously enter the A2AR-binding pocket from the membrane milieu using the same portal gate previously suggested for opsin ligands. We confirm the presence of cholesterol inside the receptor by chemical modification of the A2AR interior in a biotinylation assay. Overall, we show that cholesterol’s impact on A2AR-binding affinity goes beyond pure allosteric modulation and unveils a new interaction mode between cholesterol and the A2AR that could potentially apply to other GPCRs.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Ligand, Membrane biology, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Steroid