Neonicotinoids are synthetic, nicotine-derived insecticides used for agricultural and household pest control. While highly effective at activating insect nicotinic receptors, many neonicotinoids are also capable of directly activating and/or modulating the activation of vertebrate nicotinic receptors. In this study, we have investigated the actions of the neonicotinoids clothianidin (CTD) and imidacloprid (IMI) on human neuronal α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. The data demonstrate that the compounds are weak agonists of the human receptors with relative peak currents of 1–4 % of the response to 1 mM acetylcholine (ACh). Coapplication of IMI strongly inhibited currents elicited by ACh. From Schild plot analysis, we estimate that the affinity of IMI to the human α4β2 receptor is 18 µM. The application of low concentrations of CTD potentiated responses to low concentrations of ACh, suggesting that receptors occupied by one ACh and one CTD molecule have a higher gating efficacy than receptors with one ACh bound. Interestingly, subunit stoichiometry affected inhibition by CTD, with (α4)2(β2)3 receptors significantly more strongly inhibited than the (α4)3(β2)2 receptors.
nicotinic receptor; neonicotinoid; insecticide
The discovery of the acetylcholine binding proteins (AChBPs) has provided critical soluble surrogates for examining structure and ligand interactions with nicotinic receptors and related pentameric ligand-gated ion channels. The multiple marine and freshwater sources of AChBP constitute a protein family with substantial sequence divergence and selectivity in ligand recognition for analyzing structure–activity relationships. The purification of AChBP in substantial quantities in the absence of a detergent enables one to conduct spectroscopic studies of the ligand–AChBP complexes. To this end, we have examined the interaction of a congeneric series of benzylidene-ring substituted anabaseines with AChBPs from Lymnaea, Aplysia, and Bulinus species and correlated their binding energetics with spectroscopic changes associated with ligand binding. The anabaseines display agonist activity on the α7 nicotinic receptor, a homomeric receptor with sequences similar to those of the AChBPs. Substituted anabaseines show absorbance and fluorescence properties sensitive to the protonation state, relative permittivity (dielectric constant), and the polarizability of the surrounding solvent or the proximal residues in the binding site. Absorbance difference spectra reveal that a single protonation state of the ligand binds to AChBP and that the bound ligand experiences a solvent environment with a high degree of polarizability. Changes in the fluorescence quantum yield of the bound ligand reflect the rigidification of the ring system of the bound ligand. Hence, the spectral properties of the bound ligand allow a description of the electronic character of the bound state of the ligand within its aromatic binding pocket and provide information complementary to that of crystal structures in defining the determinants of interaction.
The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) is a member of the ligand-gated ion channel family and is implicated in many neurological events. Yet, the receptor is difficult to target without high-resolution structures. In contrast, the structure of the acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) has been solved to high resolution, and it serves as a surrogate structure of the extra-cellular domain in nAChR. Here we conduct a virtual screening study of the AChBP using the relaxed-complex method, which involves a combination of molecular dynamics simulations (to achieve receptor structures) and ligand docking. The library screened through comes from the National Cancer Institute, and its ligands show great potential for binding AChBP in various manners. These ligands mimic the known binders of AChBP; a significant subset docks well against all species of the protein and some distinguish between the various structures. These novel ligands could serve as potential pharmaceuticals in the AChBP/nAChR systems.
acetylcholine binding protein; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor; relaxed-complex; molecular dynamics; docking; virtual screening
A series of 14 new analogs of α-conotoxin PnIA Conus pennaceus was synthesized and tested for binding to the human α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) and acetylcholine-binding proteins (AChBP) Lymnaea stagnalis and Aplysia californica. Based on computer modeling and the X-ray structure of the A. californica AChBP complex with the PnIA[A10L, D14K] analog , single and multiple amino acid substitutions were introduced in α-conotoxin PnIA aimed at compounds of higher affinity and selectivity. Three analogs, PnIA[L5H], PnIA[A10L, D14K] and PnIA[L5R, A10L, D14R], have high affinities for AChBPs or α7 nAChR, as found in competition with radioiodinated α-bungarotoxin. That is why we prepared radioiodinated derivatives of these α-conotoxins, demonstrated their specific binding and found that among the tested synthetic analogs, most had almost 10-fold higher affinity in competition with radioactive α-conotoxins as compared to competition with radioactive α-bungarotoxin. Thus, radioiodinated α-conotoxins are a more sensitive tool for checking the activity of novel α-conotoxins and other compounds quickly dissociating from the receptor complexes.
α-conotoxin analogs; nicotinic acetylcholine receptors; acetylcholine-binding proteins; computer modeling; radioligand analysis
The α7 acetylcholine receptor (AChR) mediates pre- and postsynaptic neurotransmission in the central nervous system and is a potential therapeutic target in neurodegenerative, neuropsychiatric and inflammatory disorders. We determined the crystal structure of the extracellular domain of a receptor chimera constructed from the human α7 AChR and Lymnaea stagnalis acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP), which shares 64% sequence identity and 71% similarity with native α7. We also determined the structure with bound epibatidine, a potent AChR agonist. Comparison of the structures revealed molecular rearrangements and interactions that mediate agonist recognition and early steps in signal transduction in α7 AChRs. The structures further revealed a ring of negative charge within the central vestibule, poised to contribute to cation selectivity. Structure-guided mutational studies disclosed distinctive contributions to agonist recognition and signal transduction in α7 AChRs. The structures provide a realistic template for structure-aided drug design and for defining structure–function relationships of α7 AChRs.
α-Cobratoxin (Cbtx), the neurotoxin isolated from the venom of the Thai cobra Naja kaouthia, causes paralysis by preventing acetylcholine (ACh) binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). In the current study, the region of the Cbtx molecule that is directly involved in binding to nAChRs is used as the target for anticobratoxin drug design. The crystal structure (1YI5) of Cbtx in complex with the acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP), a soluble homolog of the extracellular binding domain of nAChRs, was selected to prepare an α-cobratoxin active binding site for docking. The amino acid residues (Ser182-Tyr192) of the AChBP structure, the binding site of Cbtx, were used as the positive control to validate the prepared Cbtx active binding site (root mean square deviation < 1.2 Å). Virtual screening of the National Cancer Institute diversity set, a library of 1990 compounds with nonredundant pharmacophore profiles, using AutoDock against the Cbtx active site, revealed 39 potential inhibitor candidates. The adapted in vitro radioligand competition assays using [3H]epibatidine and [125I]bungarotoxin against the AChBPs from the marine species, Aplysia californica (Ac), and from the freshwater snails, Lymnaea stagnalis (Ls) and Bolinus truncates (Bt), revealed 4 compounds from the list of inhibitor candidates that had micromolar to nanomolar interferences for the toxin binding to AChBPs. Three hits (NSC42258, NSC121865, and NSC134754) can prolong the survival time of the mice if administered 30 min before injection with Cbtx, but only NSC121865 and NSC134754 can prolong the survival time if injected immediately after injection with Cbtx. These inhibitors serve as novel templates/scaffolds for the development of more potent and specific anticobratoxin.
α-cobratoxin; virtual screening; docking; neurotoxin; nicotinic acetylcholine receptor
The recent characterization of an acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) from the fresh water snail, Lymnaea stagnalis, shows it to be a structural homolog of the extracellular domain of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR). To ascertain whether the AChBP exhibits the recognition properties and functional states of the nAChR, we have expressed the protein in milligram quantities from a synthetic cDNA transfected into human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells. The protein secreted into the medium shows a pentameric rosette structure with ligand stoichiometry approximating five sites per pentamer. Surprisingly, binding of acetylcholine, selective agonists, and antagonists ranging from small alkaloids to larger peptides results in substantial quenching of the intrinsic tryptophan fluorescence. Using stopped-flow techniques, we demonstrate rapid rates of association and dissociation of agonists and slow rates for the α-neurotoxins. Since agonist binding occurs in millisecond time frames, and the α-neurotoxins may induce a distinct conformational state for the AChBP-toxin complex, the snail protein shows many of the properties expected for receptor recognition of interacting ligands. Thus, the marked tryptophan quenching not only documents the importance of aromatic residues in ligand recognition, but establishes that the AChBP will be a useful functional as well as structural surrogate of the nicotinic receptor.
Structure-based drug design can potentially accelerate the development of new therapeutics. In this study, a co-crystal structure of the acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) from Capitella teleta (Ct) in complex with a cyclopropane-containing, selective α4β2-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist (compound 5) was acquired. The structural determinants required for ligand binding obtained from this AChBP X-ray structure were used to refine our previous model of the human α4β2-nAChR, thus possibly providing a better understanding of the structure of the human receptor. In order to validate the potential application of the structure of the Ct-AChBP in the engineering of new α4β2-nAChR ligands, homology modeling methods, combined with in silico ADME calculations, were used to design analogs of compound 5. The most promising compound 12, exhibited an improved metabolic stability in comparison to the parent compound 5 while retaining favorable pharmacological parameters together with appropriate behavioral endpoints in the rodent studies.
Acetylcholine-binding protein (AChBP) recently emerged as a prototype for relating structure to function of the ligand binding domain of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs). To understand interactions of competitive antagonists at the atomic structural level, we studied binding of the curare derivatives d-tubocurarine (d-TC) and metocurine to AChBP using computational methods, mutagenesis, and ligand binding measurements. To account for protein flexibility, we used a 2-ns molecular dynamics simulation of AChBP to generate multiple snapshots of the equilibrated dynamic structure to which optimal docking orientations were determined. Our results predict a predominant docking orientation for both d-TC and metocurine, but unexpectedly, the bound orientations differ fundamentally for each ligand. At one subunit interface of AChBP, the side chain of Tyr-89 closely approaches a positively charged nitrogen in d-TC but is farther away from the equivalent nitrogen in metocurine, whereas, at the opposing interface, side chains of Trp-53 and Gln-55 closely approach the metocurine scaffold but not that of d-TC. The different orientations correspond to ~170° rotation and ~30° degree tilt of the curare scaffold within the binding pocket. Mutagenesis of binding site residues in AChBP, combined with measurements of ligand binding, confirms the different docking orientations. Thus structurally similar ligands can adopt distinct orientations at receptor binding sites, posing challenges for interpreting structure-activity relationships for many drugs.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), being responsible for mediating key physiological functions, are ubiquitous in the central and peripheral nervous systems. As members of the Cys loop ligand-gated ion channel family, neuronal nA-ChRs are pentameric, composed of various permutations of α (α2 to α10) and β (β2 to β4) subunits forming functional heteromeric or homomeric receptors. Diversity in nAChR subunit composition complicates development of selective ligands for specific subtypes, since the five binding sites reside at the subunit interfaces. The acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP), a soluble extracellular domain homologue secreted by mollusks, serves as a general structural surrogate for the nAChRs. In this work, homomeric AChBPs from Lymnaea and Aplysia snails were used as in situ templates for the generation of novel and potent ligands that selectively bind to these proteins. The cycloaddition reaction between building block azides and alkynes to form stable 1,2,3-triazoles generated the leads. The extent of triazole formation on the AChBP template correlated with the affinity of the triazole product at the nicotinic ligand binding site. Instead of the in situ protein-templated azide-alkyne cycloaddition reaction occurring at a localized, sequestered enzyme active center as previously shown, we demonstrate that the in situ reaction can take place at subunit interfaces of an oligomeric protein and can thus be used as a tool for identification of novel candidate nAChR ligands. The crystal structure of one of the in situ formed triazole–AChBP complexes shows binding poses and molecular determinants of interactions predicted from structures of known agonists and antagonists. Hence, the click chemistry approach with an in situ template of a receptor provides a novel synthetic avenue for generating candidate agonists and antagonists for ligand-gated ion channels.
Acetamiprid (ACE) and imidacloprid (IMI) belong to a new, widely used class of pesticide, the neonicotinoids. With similar chemical structures to nicotine, neonicotinoids also share agonist activity at nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Although their toxicities against insects are well established, their precise effects on mammalian nAChRs remain to be elucidated. Because of the importance of nAChRs for mammalian brain function, especially brain development, detailed investigation of the neonicotinoids is needed to protect the health of human children. We aimed to determine the effects of neonicotinoids on the nAChRs of developing mammalian neurons and compare their effects with nicotine, a neurotoxin of brain development.
Primary cultures of cerebellar neurons from neonatal rats allow for examinations of the developmental neurotoxicity of chemicals because the various stages of neurodevelopment—including proliferation, migration, differentiation, and morphological and functional maturation—can be observed in vitro. Using these cultures, an excitatory Ca2+-influx assay was employed as an indicator of neural physiological activity. Significant excitatory Ca2+ influxes were evoked by ACE, IMI, and nicotine at concentrations greater than 1 µM in small neurons in cerebellar cultures that expressed the mRNA of the α3, α4, and α7 nAChR subunits. The firing patterns, proportion of excited neurons, and peak excitatory Ca2+ influxes induced by ACE and IMI showed differences from those induced by nicotine. However, ACE and IMI had greater effects on mammalian neurons than those previously reported in binding assay studies. Furthermore, the effects of the neonicotinoids were significantly inhibited by the nAChR antagonists mecamylamine, α-bungarotoxin, and dihydro-β-erythroidine.
This study is the first to show that ACE, IMI, and nicotine exert similar excitatory effects on mammalian nAChRs at concentrations greater than 1 µM. Therefore, the neonicotinoids may adversely affect human health, especially the developing brain.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that belong to the Cys-loop receptor superfamily. These receptors are allosteric proteins that exist in different conformational states, including resting (closed), activated (open), and desensitized (closed) states. The acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) is a structural homologue of the extracellular ligand-binding domain of nAChRs. In previous studies, the degree of the C-loop radial extension of AChBP has been assigned to different conformational states of nAChRs. It has been suggested that a closed C-loop is preferred for the active conformation of nAChRs in complex with agonists whereas an open C-loop reflects an antagonist-bound (closed) state. In this work, we have determined the crystal structure of AChBP from the water snail Lymnaea stagnalis (Ls) in complex with dihydro-β-erythroidine (DHβE), which is a potent competitive antagonist of nAChRs. The structure reveals that binding of DHβE to AChBP imposes closure of the C-loop as agonists, but also a shift perpendicular to previously observed C-loop movements. These observations suggest that DHβE may antagonize the receptor via a different mechanism compared to prototypical antagonists and toxins.
The initial coupling between ligand binding and channel gating in the human α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) has been investigated with targeted molecular dynamics (TMD) simulation. During the simulation, eight residues at the tip of the C-loop in two alternating subunits were forced to move toward a ligand-bound conformation as captured in the crystallographic structure of acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) in complex with carbamoylcholine. Comparison of apo- and ligand-bound AChBP structures shows only minor rearrangements distal from the ligand-binding site. In contrast, comparison of apo and TMD simulation structures of the nAChR reveals significant changes toward the bottom of the ligand-binding domain. These structural rearrangements are subsequently translated to the pore domain, leading to a partly open channel within 4 ns of TMD simulation. Furthermore, we confirmed that two highly conserved residue pairs, one located near the ligand-binding pocket (Lys145 and Tyr188), and the other located toward the bottom of the ligand-binding domain (Arg206 and Glu45), are likely to play important roles in coupling agonist binding to channel gating. Overall, our simulations suggest that gating movements of the α7 receptor may involve relatively small structural changes within the ligand-binding domain, implying that the gating transition is energy-efficient and can be easily modulated by agonist binding/unbinding.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are ligand-gated ion channels responsible for neurotransmitter-mediated signal transduction at synapses throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems. Binding of neurotransmitter molecules to subunit interfaces in the N-terminal extracellular domain induces structural rearrangements of the membrane-spanning domain permitting the influx of cations. A full understanding of how the conformational changes propagate from the ligand-binding site to the pore domain is of great interest to biologists, yet remains to be established. Using a special simulation technique known as targeted molecular dynamics, Cheng and colleagues probed the early stages of ligand-induced conformational rearrangements that may lead to channel opening. During the simulation, Cheng et al. observed a sequence of conformational changes that stem from the ligand-binding site to the transmembrane domain resulting in a wider channel. From these results, they suggest that gating movements may entail only small structural changes in the ligand-binding domain, implying that channel gating is energy-efficient and can readily be modulated by the binding/unbinding of agonist molecules.
Neuronal nAChRs are a diverse family of pentameric ion channels with wide distribution throughout cells of the nervous and immune systems. However, the role of specific subtypes in normal and pathological states remains poorly understood due to the lack of selective probes. Here, we used a binding assay based on acetylcholine-binding protein (AChBP), a homolog of the nicotinic acetylcholine ligand-binding domain, to discover a novel α-conotoxin (α-TxIA) in the venom of Conus textile. α-TxIA bound with high affinity to AChBPs from different species and selectively targeted the α3β2 nAChR subtype. A co-crystal structure of Ac-AChBP with the enhanced potency analog TxIA(A10L), revealed a 20° backbone tilt compared to other AChBP–conotoxin complexes. This reorientation was coordinated by a key salt bridge formed between Arg5 (TxIA) and Asp195 (Ac-AChBP). Mutagenesis studies, biochemical assays and electrophysiological recordings directly correlated the interactions observed in the co-crystal structure to binding affinity at AChBP and different nAChR subtypes. Together, these results establish a new pharmacophore for the design of novel subtype-selective ligands with therapeutic potential in nAChR-related diseases.
acetylcholine binding protein; conotoxin; cys-loop receptor; ion channel; nicotinic acetylcholine receptors
We present a homology based model of the ligand binding domain (LBD) of the homopentameric alpha1 glycine receptor (GlyR). The model is based on multiple sequence alignment with other members of the nicotinicoid ligand gated ion channel superfamily and two homologous acetylcholine binding proteins (AChBP) from the freshwater (Lymnaea stagnalis) and saltwater (Aplysia californica) snails with known high resolution structure. Using two template proteins with known structure to model three dimensional structure of a target protein is especially advantageous for sequences with low homology as in the case presented in this paper. The final model was cross-validated by critical evaluation of experimental and published mutagenesis, functional and other biochemical studies. In addition, a complex structure with strychnine antagonist in the putative binding site is proposed based on docking simulation using Autodock program. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations with simulated annealing protocol are reported on the proposed LBD of GlyR, which is stable in 5 ns simulation in water, as well as for a deformed LBD structure modeled on the corresponding domain determined in low-resolution cryomicroscopy structure of the alpha subunit of the full-length acetylcholine receptor (AChR). Our simulations demonstrate that the beta-sandwich central core of the protein monomer is fairly rigid in the simulations and resistant to deformations in water.
glycine receptor; ligand-gated ion channel; ligand binding domain; nicotinicoid receptor; cys-loop receptor; protein structure modeling; protein structure prediction; ligand docking; alpha1 subunit
Neonicotinoid insecticide metabolism involves considerable substrate specificity and regioselectivity of the relevant CYP450, aldehyde oxidase, and phase II enzymes. Human CYP450 recombinant enzymes carry out the following conversions: CYP3A4, 2C19 and 2B6 for thiamethoxam (TMX) to clothianidin (CLO); 3A4, 2C19 and 2A6 for CLO to desmethyl-CLO; 2C19 for TMX to desmethyl-TMX. Human liver aldehyde oxidase reduces the nitro substituent of CLO to nitroso much more rapidly than that of TMX. Imidacloprid (IMI), CLO and several of their metabolites do not give detectable N-glucuronides but 5-hydroxy-IMI, 4,5-diol-IMI and 4-hydroxy-thiacloprid are converted to O-glucuronides in vitro with mouse liver microsomes and UDP-glucuronic acid or in vivo in mice. Mouse liver cytosol with S-adenosylmethionine converts desmethyl-CLO to CLO but not desmethyl-TMX to TMX. Two organophosphorus CYP450 inhibitors partially block IMI, thiacloprid and CLO metabolism in vivo in mice, elevating the brain and liver levels of the parent compounds while reducing amounts of the hydroxylated metabolites.
Aldehyde oxidase; clothianidin; CYP450; glucuronide; imidacloprid; methylation; neonicotinoid insecticide; thiacloprid; thiamethoxam
Background: Cytisine and varenicline are smoking cessation drugs binding to nicotinic receptors (nAChRs).
Results: We studied crystal structures of cytisine and varenicline with AChBP and analyzed binding of α4β2-like or α7-like AChBP mutants to cytisine.
Conclusion: Ligand selectivity relies on residues beyond the binding site primary shell.
Significance: These structures will contribute to designing novel compounds targeting specific nAChR subtypes.
Smoking cessation is an important aim in public health worldwide as tobacco smoking causes many preventable deaths. Addiction to tobacco smoking results from the binding of nicotine to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the brain, in particular the α4β2 receptor. One way to aid smoking cessation is by the use of nicotine replacement therapies or partial nAChR agonists like cytisine or varenicline. Here we present the co-crystal structures of cytisine and varenicline in complex with Aplysia californica acetylcholine-binding protein and use these as models to investigate binding of these ligands binding to nAChRs. This analysis of the binding properties of these two partial agonists provides insight into differences with nicotine binding to nAChRs. A mutational analysis reveals that the residues conveying subtype selectivity in nAChRs reside on the binding site complementary face and include features extending beyond the first shell of contacting residues.
Crystal Structure; Cys-loop Receptors; Ion Channels; Ligand-binding Protein; Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors; Acetylcholine-binding Protein; α4β2-selective Ligands; Cytisine; Varenicline
Agonists activating nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) include potential therapeutic agents and also toxicants such as epibatidine and neonicotinoid insecticides with a chloropyridinyl substituent. Nicotinic agonist interactions with mollusk (Aplysia californica) acetylcholine binding protein, a soluble surrogate of the nAChR extracellular domain, are precisely defined by scanning with 17 methionine and tyrosine mutants within the binding site by photoaffinity labeling with 5-azido-6-chloropyridin-3-yl probes that have similar affinities to their nonazido counterparts. Methionine and tryrosine are the only residues found derivatized, and their reactivity exquisitely depends on the direction of the azido moiety and its apposition to the reactive amino acid side chains.
The molluscan acetylcholine-binding protein (AChBP) is a soluble homopentameric homolog of the extracellular domain of various ligand-gated ion channels. Previous studies have reported that AChBP, when fused to the ion pore domain of the serotonin receptor (5HT3AR), can form a functional ligand-gated chimeric channel only if the AChBP loop regions between β-strands β1 and β2 (β1–β2), β6 and β7 (β6–β7), and β8 and β9 (β8–β9) are replaced with those of the 5HT3AR. To investigate further the potential interactions among these three important loop regions in a membrane- and detergent-free system, we designed AChBP constructs in which loops β1–β2, β6–β7, and β8–β9 of the AChBP were individually and combinatorially substituted in all permutations with the analogous loops of the 5HT3AR. These chimeras were expressed as secreted proteins using the Pichia pastoris yeast expression system. [125I]-α-Bungarotoxin-binding was detected in the culture media obtained from homologous recombinant clones expressing the wild-type AChBP, the β1–β2 loop-only chimera, and the chimera containing all three 5HT3AR loop substitutions. The remaining chimeras failed to show [125I]-α-bungarotoxin binding, and further analysis of cellular extracts allowed us to determine that these binding-negative chimeric constructs accumulated intracellularly and were not secreted into the culture medium. Our results demonstrate that coordinated interactions among loops β1–β2, β6–β7, and β8–β9 are essential for formation of a functional ligand-binding site, as evidenced by [125I]-α-bungarotoxin-binding, and for efficient protein secretion. In addition, the constructs described here demonstrate the feasibility of utilizing soluble scaffolds to explore functionally important interactions within the extracellular domain of membrane-bound proteins.
Cys-loop receptors (CLR) are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that mediate fast excitatory or inhibitory transmission in the nervous system. Strychnine and d-tubocurarine (d-TC) are neurotoxins that have been highly instrumental in decades of research on glycine receptors (GlyR) and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR), respectively. In this study we addressed the question how the molecular recognition of strychnine and d-TC occurs with high affinity and yet low specificity towards diverse CLR family members. X-ray crystal structures of the complexes with AChBP, a well-described structural homolog of the extracellular domain of the nAChRs, revealed that strychnine and d-TC adopt multiple occupancies and different ligand orientations, stabilizing the homopentameric protein in an asymmetric state. This introduces a new level of structural diversity in CLRs. Unlike protein and peptide neurotoxins, strychnine and d-TC form a limited number of contacts in the binding pocket of AChBP, offering an explanation for their low selectivity. Based on the ligand interactions observed in strychnine- and d-TC-AChBP complexes we performed alanine-scanning mutagenesis in the binding pocket of the human α1 GlyR and α7 nAChR and showed the functional relevance of these residues in conferring high potency of strychnine and d-TC, respectively. Our results demonstrate that a limited number of ligand interactions in the binding pocket together with an energetic stabilization of the extracellular domain are key to the poor selective recognition of strychnine and d-TC by CLRs as diverse as the GlyR, nAChR, and 5-HT3R.
Ligand-gated ion channels play an important role in fast electrochemical signaling in the brain. Cys-loop receptors are a class of pentameric ligand-gated ion channels that are activated by specific neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine (ACh), serotonin (5-HT), glycine (Gly), and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Each type of cys-loop receptor contains an extracellular domain that specifically recognizes only one of these four neurotransmitters and opens an ion-conducting channel pore upon ligand binding. In this study, we investigated the poor specificity with which two potent neurotoxic inhibitors, namely strychnine and d-tubocurarine, are recognized by different cys-loop receptors. Using X-ray crystallography we solved 3-dimensional structures of strychnine or d-tubocurarine in complex with ACh binding protein (AChBP), a well-recognized structural homolog of the nicotinic ACh receptor. Based on ligand-receptor interactions observed in AChBP structures we designed mutant GlyR and α7 nAChR to identify hot spots in the binding pocket of these receptors that define potent inhibition by strychnine and d-tubocurarine, respectively. Combined, our results offer detailed understanding of the molecular recognition of antagonists that have high affinity but poor specificity for different cys-loop receptors.
α-Conotoxins potently inhibit isoforms of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are essential for neuronal and neuromuscular transmission. They are also used as neurochemical tools to study nAChR physiology and are being evaluated as drug leads to treat various neuronal disorders. A number of experimental studies have been performed to investigate the structure-activity relationships of conotoxin/nAChR complexes. However, the structural determinants of their binding interactions are still ambiguous in the absence of experimental structures of conotoxin-receptor complexes. In this study, the binding modes of α-conotoxin ImI to the α7-nAChR, currently the best-studied system experimentally, were investigated using comparative modeling and molecular dynamics simulations. The structures of more than 30 single point mutants of either the conotoxin or the receptor were modeled and analyzed. The models were used to explain qualitatively the change of affinities measured experimentally, including some nAChR positions located outside the binding site. Mutational energies were calculated using different methods that combine a conformational refinement procedure (minimization with a distance dependent dielectric constant or explicit water, or molecular dynamics using five restraint strategies) and a binding energy function (MM-GB/SA or MM-PB/SA). The protocol using explicit water energy minimization and MM-GB/SA gave the best correlations with experimental binding affinities, with an R2 value of 0.74. The van der Waals and non-polar desolvation components were found to be the main driving force for binding of the conotoxin to the nAChR. The electrostatic component was responsible for the selectivity of the various ImI mutants. Overall, this study provides novel insights into the binding mechanism of α-conotoxins to nAChRs and the methodological developments reported here open avenues for computational scanning studies of a rapidly expanding range of wild-type and chemically modified α-conotoxins.
Conotoxins are peptide toxins extracted from the venom of carnivorous marine cone snails. Members of the α-conotoxin subfamily potently block nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which are involved in signal transmission between two neurons or between neurons and muscle fibers. nAChRs are important pharmacological targets due to their involvement in the transmission of pain stimuli and also in numerous neurone diseases and disorders. Their potency and specificity have led to the development of α-conotoxins as drug leads, and also to their use in the investigation of the role of nAChRs in various physiological processes. The most studied conotoxin/nAChR system, ImI/α7, was modeled in this study, and several computational methods were tested for their ability to explain the perturbations observed experimentally after introducing single point mutations into either ImI or the α7 receptor. The aim of this study was to establish a theoretical basis to rapidly identify new α-conotoxin mutants that might have improved specificity and affinity for a given receptor subtype. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of conotoxins are predicted to exist, and computational methods are needed to help streamline the discovery of their molecular targets.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) mediate fast synaptic cholinergic transmission in the insect central nervous system. The insect nAChR is the molecular target of a class of insecticides, neonicotinoids. Like mammalian nAChRs, insect nAChRs are considered to be made up of five subunits, coded by homologous genes belonging to the same family. The nAChR subunit genes of Drosophila melanogaster, Apis mellifera and Anopheles gambiae have been cloned previously based on their genome sequences. The silkworm Bombyx mori is a model insect of Lepidoptera, among which are many agricultural pests. Identification and characterization of B. mori nAChR genes could provide valuable basic information for this important family of receptor genes and for the study of the molecular mechanisms of neonicotinoid action and resistance.
We searched the genome sequence database of B. mori with the fruit fly and honeybee nAChRs by tBlastn and cloned all putative silkworm nAChR cDNAs by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and rapid amplification of cDNA ends (RACE) methods. B. mori appears to have the largest known insect nAChR gene family to date, including nine α-type subunits and three β-type subunits. The silkworm possesses three genes having low identity with others, including one α and two β subunits, α9, β2 and β3. Like the fruit fly and honeybee counterparts, silkworm nAChR gene α6 has RNA-editing sites, and α4, α6 and α8 undergo alternative splicing. In particular, alternative exon 7 of Bmα8 may have arisen from a recent duplication event. Truncated transcripts were found for Bmα4 and Bmα5.
B. mori possesses a largest known insect nAChR gene family characterized to date, including nine α-type subunits and three β-type subunits. RNA-editing, alternative splicing and truncated transcripts were found in several subunit genes, which might enhance the diversity of the gene family.
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) play important neurophysiological roles and are of considerable medical relevance. They have been studied extensively, greatly facilitated by the gastropod acetylcholine-binding proteins (AChBP) which represent soluble structural and functional homologues of the ligand-binding domain of nAChR. All these proteins are ring-like pentamers. Here we report that AChBP exists in the hemolymph of the planorbid snail Biomphalaria glabrata (vector of the schistosomiasis parasite) as a regular pentagonal dodecahedron, 22 nm in diameter (12 pentamers, 60 active sites). We sequenced and recombinantly expressed two ∼25 kDa polypeptides (BgAChBP1 and BgAChBP2) with a specific active site, N-glycan site and disulfide bridge variation. We also provide the exon/intron structures. Recombinant BgAChBP1 formed pentamers and dodecahedra, recombinant BgAChBP2 formed pentamers and probably disulfide-bridged di-pentamers, but not dodecahedra. Three-dimensional electron cryo-microscopy (3D-EM) yielded a 3D reconstruction of the dodecahedron with a resolution of 6 Å. Homology models of the pentamers docked to the 6 Å structure revealed opportunities for chemical bonding at the inter-pentamer interfaces. Definition of the ligand-binding pocket and the gating C-loop in the 6 Å structure suggests that 3D-EM might lead to the identification of functional states in the BgAChBP dodecahedron.
Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors (nAChR) are cation-selective, ligand-gated ion channels of the Cys-loop gene superfamily. The recent crystal structure of a bacterial homologue from Erwinia chrysanthemi (ELIC) agrees with previous structures of the N-terminal domain of acetylcholine-binding protein (AChBP) and of the electronmicroscopy derived Torpedo nAChR structure. However, the ELIC transmembrane domain is significantly more tightly packed than the corresponding region of the Torpedo nAChR. We investigated the tightness of protein packing surrounding the extracellular end of the M2 transmembrane segment and around the loop connecting the M2 and M3 segments using the substituted cysteine accessibility method (SCAM). The M2 20′ to 27′ residues were highly water accessible and the variation in reaction rates were consistent with this region being α-helical. At all positions tested, the presence of ACh changed MTSEA modification rates by less than 10-fold. In the presence of ACh, reaction rates for residues in the last extracellular α-helical turn of M2 and in the M2M3 loop increased, whereas rates in M2's penultimate α-helical turn decreased. Only 3 out of 8 M2M3 loop residues were accessible to MTSEA in both the presence and absence of ACh. We infer that the protein packing around the M2M3 loop is tight, consistent with it's location at the interdomain interface where it is involved in the transduction of ligand binding in the extracellular domain to gating in the transmembrane domain. Our data indicate that the Torpedo nAChR transmembrane domain structure is a better model than the ELIC structure for eukaryotic Cys loop receptors.
acetylcholine; nicotine; serotonin; Cys-loop; ion-channel; gating
Fleas are significant ectoparasites of small animals. They can be a severe irritant to animals and serve as a vector for a number of infectious diseases. In this article, we discuss the pharmacological characteristics of four insect nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonists used as fleacides in dogs and cats, which include three neonicotinoids (imidacloprid, nitenpyram, and dinotefuran) and spinosad. Insect nAChR agonists are one of the most important new classes of insecticides, which are used to control sucking insects both on plants and on companion animals. These new compounds provide a new approach for practitioners to safely and effectively eliminate fleas.
Fleas; neonicotinoids; spinosad; fleacides; nicotinic receptors