Issue Date: December 19, 2011
For the first time, researchers this year obtained an atomic-resolution crystal structure of a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) together with its G protein partner (C&EN, Aug. 1, page 9; Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature10361). Given the central role of GPCRs in molecular signaling, the new view showing how a receptor activates a G protein has implications for both fundamental biochemistry and drug design. Stanford University’s Brian K. Kobilka and the University of Michigan’s Roger K. Sunahara led the effort to solve the X-ray structure of the β2 adrenergic receptor with its G protein. They harnessed antibodies from llamas, tailored a crystallization matrix for the membrane proteins, and used specialized detergents to keep the complex stable. With the structure in hand, “instead of targeting drugs to the extracellular surface of the receptor, it may be possible to target drugs to the receptor-G protein interface,” said Christopher G. Tate, a crystallographer at England’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. The researchers also used electron microscopy (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1113645108) and hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature10488) to examine the interaction (C&EN, Oct. 3, page 34). Taken together, the team’s results suggest the receptor kicks off signaling by engaging the N-terminus of the G protein, tugging on it, and interfering with the region of the G protein that binds the β phosphate of the nucleoside guanosine diphosphate, triggering its release, Sunahara said.
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