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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


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) dissipates nutritional energy as heat via the uncoupling protein-1 (UCP1) and BAT activity correlates with leanness in human adults. Here we profile G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) in brown adipocytes to identify druggable regulators of BAT. Twenty-one per cent of the GPCRs link to the Gq family, and inhibition of Gq signalling enhances differentiation of human and murine brown adipocytes. In contrast, activation of Gq signalling abrogates brown adipogenesis. We further identify the endothelin/Ednra pathway as an autocrine activator of Gq signalling in brown adipocytes. Expression of a constitutively active Gq protein in mice reduces UCP1 expression in BAT, whole-body energy expenditure and the number of brown-like/beige cells in white adipose tissue (WAT). Furthermore, expression of Gq in human WAT inversely correlates with UCP1 expression. Thus, our data indicate that Gq signalling regulates brown/beige adipocytes and inhibition of Gq signalling may be a novel therapeutic approach to combat obesity.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Obesity, Adipose tissue, Tissues, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Brown adipose tissue, Phospholipase C


G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are known to initiate a plethora of signaling pathways in vitro. However, it is unclear which of these pathways are engaged to mediate physiological responses. Here, we examine the distinct roles of Gq/11-dependent signaling and receptor phosphorylation-dependent signaling in bronchial airway contraction and lung function regulated through the M3-muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (M3-mAChR). By using a genetically engineered mouse expressing a G protein-biased M3-mAChR mutant, we reveal the first evidence, to our knowledge, of a role for M3-mAChR phosphorylation in bronchial smooth muscle contraction in health and in a disease state with relevance to human asthma. Furthermore, this mouse model can be used to distinguish the physiological responses that are regulated by M3-mAChR phosphorylation (which include control of lung function) from those responses that are downstream of G protein signaling. In this way, we present an approach by which to predict the physiological/therapeutic outcome of M3-mAChR-biased ligands with important implications for drug discovery.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Asthma, Muscle contraction, Smooth muscle, Membrane biology, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, G protein


Glycoprotein hormones (GPHs) are the main regulators of the pituitary-thyroid and pituitary-gonadal axes. Selective interaction between GPHs and their cognate G protein-coupled receptors ensure specificity in GPH signaling. The mechanisms how these hormones activate glycoprotein hormone receptors (GPHRs) or how mutations and autoantibodies can alter receptor function were unclear. Based on the hypothesis that GPHRs contain an internal agonist, we systematically screened peptide libraries derived from the ectodomain for agonistic activity on the receptors. We show that a peptide (p10) derived from a conserved sequence in the C-terminal part of the extracellular N terminus can activate all GPHRs in vitro and in GPHR-expressing tissues. Inactivating mutations in this conserved region or in p10 can inhibit activation of the thyroid stimulating hormone receptor by autoantibodies. Our data suggest an activation mechanism where, upon extracellular ligand binding, this intramolecular agonist isomerizes and induces structural changes in the 7-transmembrane helix domain triggering G-protein activation. This mechanism can explain the pathophysiology of activating autoantibodies and several mutations causing endocrine dysfunctions such as Graves' disease, hypo- and hyperthyroidism. Our findings highlight an evolutionarily conserved activation mechanism of GPHRs and will further promote the development of specific ligands useful to treat Graves' disease and other dysfunctions of GPHRs.

Concepts: Protein, Signal transduction, Hormone, Endocrinology, Receptor, Cell signaling, Receptor antagonist, G protein-coupled receptor


G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are critically regulated by β-arrestins, which not only desensitize G-protein signalling but also initiate a G-protein-independent wave of signalling. A recent surge of structural data on a number of GPCRs, including the β2 adrenergic receptor (β2AR)-G-protein complex, has provided novel insights into the structural basis of receptor activation. However, complementary information has been lacking on the recruitment of β-arrestins to activated GPCRs, primarily owing to challenges in obtaining stable receptor-β-arrestin complexes for structural studies. Here we devised a strategy for forming and purifying a functional human β2AR-β-arrestin-1 complex that allowed us to visualize its architecture by single-particle negative-stain electron microscopy and to characterize the interactions between β2AR and β-arrestin 1 using hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS) and chemical crosslinking. Electron microscopy two-dimensional averages and three-dimensional reconstructions reveal bimodal binding of β-arrestin 1 to the β2AR, involving two separate sets of interactions, one with the phosphorylated carboxy terminus of the receptor and the other with its seven-transmembrane core. Areas of reduced HDX together with identification of crosslinked residues suggest engagement of the finger loop of β-arrestin 1 with the seven-transmembrane core of the receptor. In contrast, focal areas of raised HDX levels indicate regions of increased dynamics in both the N and C domains of β-arrestin 1 when coupled to the β2AR. A molecular model of the β2AR-β-arrestin signalling complex was made by docking activated β-arrestin 1 and β2AR crystal structures into the electron microscopy map densities with constraints provided by HDX-MS and crosslinking, allowing us to obtain valuable insights into the overall architecture of a receptor-arrestin complex. The dynamic and structural information presented here provides a framework for better understanding the basis of GPCR regulation by arrestins.

Concepts: Signal transduction, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Arrestin, Cross-link, G protein, G protein-coupled receptors, Beta-2 adrenergic receptor


The kappa opioid receptor (KOR) is involved in mediating pruritus; agonists targeting this receptor have been used to treat chronic intractable itch. Conversely, antagonists induce an inch response at the site of injection. As a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), the KOR has potential for signaling via G proteins and βarrestins, however, it is not clear which of these pathways are involved in the KOR modulation of itch. In this study asked whether the actions of KOR in pruritus involve βarrestins by using βarrestin2 knockout (βarr2-KO) mice as well as a recently described biased KOR agonist that biases receptor signaling toward G protein pathways over βarrestin2 recruitment. We find that the KOR antagonists nor-binaltorphimine (NorBNI) and 5'-guanidinonaltrindole (5'GNTI) induce acute pruritus in C57BL/6J mice, with reduced effects in KOR-KO mice. βarr2-KO mice display less of a response to KOR antagonist-induced itch compared to wild types, however no genotype differences are observed from chloroquine phosphate (CP)-induced itch, suggesting that the antagonists may utilize a KOR-βarrestin2 dependent mechanism. The KOR agonist U50,488H was equally effective in both WT and βarr2-KO mice in suppressing CP-induced itch. Furthermore, the G protein biased agonist, Isoquinolinone 2.1 was as effective as U50,488H in suppressing the itch response induced by KOR antagonist NorBNI or CP in C57BL/6J mice. Together these data suggest that the antipruritic effects of KOR agonists may not require βarrestins.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Receptor antagonist, Opioid receptor, G protein-coupled receptor, Chloroquine, Inverse agonist, Buprenorphine, G protein