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Concept: Metabotropic glutamate 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


The recent elucidation of the X-ray structure of several class A GPCRs clearly indicates that the amphipathic helix 8 (H8) is a conserved structural domain in most crystallized GPCRs. Very little is known about the presence and the possible role of an analogous H8 domain in the distantly related class C GPCRs. In this study, we investigated the structural properties for the H8 domain of the mGluR2 receptor, a class C GPCR, by applying extended molecular dynamics simulations. Our study indicates that the amphipathic H8 adopts membrane-sensitive conformational states, which depend on the membrane composition. Cholesterol-rich membranes stabilize the helical structure of H8 whereas cholesterol-depleted membranes induce a disruption of H8. The observed link between membrane cholesterol levels and H8 conformational states suggests that H8 behaves as a sensor of cholesterol concentration.

Concepts: Protein structure, Cell membrane, Receptor, Membrane biology, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, X-ray crystallography, Knowledge, Alpha helix


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


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


Photoreceptor degeneration is one of the most prevalent causes of blindness. Despite photoreceptor loss, the inner retina and central visual pathways remain intact over an extended time period, which has led to creative optogenetic approaches to restore light sensitivity in the surviving inner retina. The major drawbacks of all optogenetic tools recently developed and tested in mouse models are their low light sensitivity and lack of physiological compatibility. Here we introduce a next-generation optogenetic tool, Opto-mGluR6, designed for retinal ON-bipolar cells, which overcomes these limitations. We show that Opto-mGluR6, a chimeric protein consisting of the intracellular domains of the ON-bipolar cell-specific metabotropic glutamate receptor mGluR6 and the light-sensing domains of melanopsin, reliably recovers vision at the retinal, cortical, and behavioral levels under moderate daylight illumination.

Concepts: Protein, Retina, Photoreceptor cell, Visual perception, Visual system, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Lateral geniculate nucleus, Photosensitive ganglion cell


The ubiquitin-proteasome system degrades viral oncoproteins and other microbial virulence factors; however, the role of endolysosomal degradation pathways in these processes is unclear. Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is the causative agent of Kaposi’s sarcoma, and a constitutively active viral G protein-coupled receptor (vGPCR) contributes to the pathogenesis of KSHV-induced tumors. We report that a recently discovered autophagy-related protein, Beclin 2, interacts with KSHV GPCR, facilitates its endolysosomal degradation, and inhibits vGPCR-driven oncogenic signaling. Furthermore, monoallelic loss of Becn2 in mice accelerates the progression of vGPCR-induced lesions that resemble human Kaposi’s sarcoma. Taken together, these findings indicate that Beclin 2 is a host antiviral molecule that protects against the pathogenic effects of KSHV GPCR by facilitating its endolysosomal degradation. More broadly, our data suggest a role for host endolysosomal trafficking pathways in regulating viral pathogenesis and oncogenic signaling.

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Signal transduction, Microbiology, Virus, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Kaposi's sarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus


Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) mediate neurotransmission at the majority of excitatory synapses in the brain. Little is known, however, about how glutamate reaches the recessed binding pocket in iGluR ligand-binding domains (LBDs). Here we report the process of glutamate binding to a prototypical iGluR, GluA2, in atomistic detail using unbiased molecular simulations. Charged residues on the LBD surface form pathways that facilitate glutamate binding by effectively reducing a three-dimensional diffusion process to a spatially constrained, two-dimensional one. Free energy calculations identify residues that metastably bind glutamate and help guide it into the binding pocket. These simulations also reveal that glutamate can bind in an inverted conformation and also reorient while in its pocket. Electrophysiological recordings demonstrate that eliminating these transient binding sites slows activation and deactivation, consistent with slower glutamate binding and unbinding. These results suggest that binding pathways have evolved to optimize rapid responses of AMPA-type iGluRs at synapses.

Concepts: Action potential, Neuroscience, Ligand, NMDA receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Glutamate receptor, Ligand-gated ion channel, Neuropsychopharmacology


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