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1.  Atypical Signaling and Functional Desensitization Response of MAS Receptor to Peptide Ligands 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103520.
MAS is a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) implicated in multiple physiological processes. Several physiological peptide ligands such as angiotensin-(1–7), angiotensin fragments and neuropeptide FF (NPFF) are reported to act on MAS. Studies of conventional G protein signaling and receptor desensitization upon stimulation of MAS with the peptide ligands are limited so far. Therefore, we systematically analyzed G protein signals activated by the peptide ligands. MAS-selective non-peptide ligands that were previously shown to activate G proteins were used as controls for comparison on a common cell based assay platform. Activation of MAS by the non-peptide agonist (1) increased intracellular calcium and D-myo-inositol-1-phosphate (IP1) levels which are indicative of the activation of classical Gαq-phospholipase C signaling pathways, (2) decreased Gαi mediated cAMP levels and (3) stimulated Gα12-dependent expression of luciferase reporter. In all these assays, MAS exhibited strong constitutive activity that was inhibited by the non-peptide inverse agonist. Further, in the calcium response assay, MAS was resistant to stimulation by a second dose of the non-peptide agonist after the first activation has waned suggesting functional desensitization. In contrast, activation of MAS by the peptide ligand NPFF initiated a rapid rise in intracellular calcium with very weak IP1 accumulation which is unlike classical Gαq-phospholipase C signaling pathway. NPFF only weakly stimulated MAS-mediated activation of Gα12 and Gαi signaling pathways. Furthermore, unlike non-peptide agonist-activated MAS, NPFF-activated MAS could be readily re-stimulated the second time by the agonists. Functional assays with key ligand binding MAS mutants suggest that NPFF and non-peptide ligands bind to overlapping regions. Angiotensin-(1–7) and other angiotensin fragments weakly potentiated an NPFF-like calcium response at non-physiological concentrations (≥100 µM). Overall, our data suggest that peptide ligands induce atypical signaling and functional desensitization of MAS.
PMCID: PMC4113456  PMID: 25068582
2.  A minimal ligand binding pocket within a network of correlated mutations identified by multiple sequence and structural analysis of G protein coupled receptors 
BMC Biophysics  2012;5:13.
G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are seven helical transmembrane proteins that function as signal transducers. They bind ligands in their extracellular and transmembrane regions and activate cognate G proteins at their intracellular surface at the other side of the membrane. The relay of allosteric communication between the ligand binding site and the distant G protein binding site is poorly understood. In this study, GREMLIN [1], a recently developed method that identifies networks of co-evolving residues from multiple sequence alignments, was used to identify those that may be involved in communicating the activation signal across the membrane. The GREMLIN-predicted long-range interactions between amino acids were analyzed with respect to the seven GPCR structures that have been crystallized at the time this study was undertaken.
GREMLIN significantly enriches the edges containing residues that are part of the ligand binding pocket, when compared to a control distribution of edges drawn from a random graph. An analysis of these edges reveals a minimal GPCR binding pocket containing four residues (T1183.33, M2075.42, Y2686.51 and A2927.39). Additionally, of the ten residues predicted to have the most long-range interactions (A1173.32, A2726.55, E1133.28, H2115.46, S186EC2, A2927.39, E1223.37, G902.57, G1143.29 and M2075.42), nine are part of the ligand binding pocket.
We demonstrate the use of GREMLIN to reveal a network of statistically correlated and functionally important residues in class A GPCRs. GREMLIN identified that ligand binding pocket residues are extensively correlated with distal residues. An analysis of the GREMLIN edges across multiple structures suggests that there may be a minimal binding pocket common to the seven known GPCRs. Further, the activation of rhodopsin involves these long-range interactions between extracellular and intracellular domain residues mediated by the retinal domain.
PMCID: PMC3478154  PMID: 22748306
GPCR; GREMLIN; Long-range interactions; Ligand binding pocket; Graphical model
3.  Characterization of membrane protein non-native states. 1. Extent of unfolding and aggregation of rhodopsin in the presence of chemical denaturants† 
Biochemistry  2010;49(30):6317-6328.
Little is known about the general folding mechanisms of helical membrane proteins. Unfolded, i.e. non-native states, in particular, have not yet been characterized in detail. Here, we establish conditions under which denatured states of the mammalian membrane protein rhodopsin, a prototypic G protein coupled receptor with primary function in vision, can be studied. We investigated the effects of the chemical denaturants sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS), urea, guanidine hydrochloride (GuHCl) and trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) on rhodopsin's secondary structure and propensity for aggregation. Ellipticity at 222nm decreases in the presence of maximum concentrations of denaturants in the order TFA > GuHCl > urea > SDS + urea > SDS. Interpretation of these changes in ellipticity in terms of helix loss is challenged because the addition of some denaturants leads to aggregation. Through a combination of SDS-PAGE, dependence of ellipticity on protein concentration and 1D 1H NMR we show that aggregates form in the presence of GuHCl, TFA and urea but not in any concentration of SDS, added over a range of 0.05% to 30%. Mixed denaturant conditions consisting of 3% SDS and 8M urea, added in this order, also did not result in aggregation. We conclude that SDS is able to prevent the exposure of large hydrophobic regions present in membrane proteins which otherwise leads to aggregation. Thus, 30% SDS and 3% SDS + 8M urea are the denaturing conditions of choice to study maximally unfolded rhodopsin without aggregation.
PMCID: PMC3243665  PMID: 20575534
4.  Preferential binding of allosteric modulators to active and inactive conformational states of metabotropic glutamate receptors 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9(Suppl 1):S16.
Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are G protein coupled receptors that play important roles in synaptic plasticity and other neuro-physiological and pathological processes. Allosteric mGluR ligands are particularly promising drug targets because of their modulatory effects – enhancing or suppressing the response of mGluRs to glutamate. The mechanism by which this modulation occurs is not known. Here, we propose the hypothesis that positive and negative modulators will differentially stabilize the active and inactive conformations of the receptors, respectively. To test this hypothesis, we have generated computational models of the transmembrane regions of different mGluR subtypes in two different conformations. The inactive conformation was modeled using the crystal structure of the inactive, dark state of rhodopsin as template and the active conformation was created based on a recent model of the light-activated state of rhodopsin. Ligands for which the nature of their allosteric effects on mGluRs is experimentally known were docked to the modeled mGluR structures using ArgusLab and Autodock softwares. We find that the allosteric ligand binding pockets of mGluRs are overlapping with the retinal binding pocket of rhodopsin, and that ligands have strong preferences for the active and inactive states depending on their modulatory nature. In 8 out of 14 cases (57%), the negative modulators bound the inactive conformations with significant preference using both docking programs, and 6 out of 9 cases (67%), the positive modulators bound the active conformations. Considering results by the individual programs only, even higher correlations were observed: 12/14 (86%) and 8/9 (89%) for ArgusLab and 10/14 (71%) and 7/9 (78%) for AutoDock. These findings strongly support the hypothesis that mGluR allosteric modulation occurs via stabilization of different conformations analogous to those identified in rhodopsin where they are induced by photochemical isomerization of the retinal ligand – despite the extensive differences in sequences between mGluRs and rhodopsin.
PMCID: PMC2259417  PMID: 18315847

Results 1-4 (4)