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Molecular basis for high-affinity agonist binding in GPCRs

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Science  24 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6442, pp. 775-778
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5595

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A GPCR seen in the active state

G protein–coupled receptors (GPCRs) are exceptionally good targets for drug development. Warne et al. describe four crystal structures of complexes of a GPCR—the β1-adrenergic receptor—in its active state. They used nanobodies (recombinant variable domains of heavy-chain antibodies) and engineered G protein to stabilize the β1-adrenergic receptor bound to a full agonist, two partial agonists, and a weak partial agonist. Comparison of these structures to the inactive state elucidates how agonist binding is altered in the active conformation.

Science, this issue p. 775

Abstract

G protein–coupled receptors (GPCRs) in the G protein–coupled active state have higher affinity for agonists as compared with when they are in the inactive state, but the molecular basis for this is unclear. We have determined four active-state structures of the β1-adrenoceptor (β1AR) bound to conformation-specific nanobodies in the presence of agonists of varying efficacy. Comparison with inactive-state structures of β1AR bound to the identical ligands showed a 24 to 42% reduction in the volume of the orthosteric binding site. Potential hydrogen bonds were also shorter, and there was up to a 30% increase in the number of atomic contacts between the receptor and ligand. This explains the increase in agonist affinity of GPCRs in the active state for a wide range of structurally distinct agonists.

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