Research Article

Structural basis of Gs and Gi recognition by the human glucagon receptor

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Science  20 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6484, pp. 1346-1352
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz5346

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Choosing a partner that fits

G protein–coupled receptors (GPCRs) are responsible for transducing diverse signals from outside to inside cells. This process requires specificity both in ligand binding to GPCRs and in coupling between GPCRs and their intracellular partners, G proteins. Qiao et al. determined the structure of the human glucagon receptor (GCGR), a type B GPCR, bound to glucagon and one of two heterotrimeric G proteins, Gs or Gi1. GCGR signals mainly through Gs, and the structures provide a basis for this specificity. Conformational changes in GCGR, relative to the inactive state, create a binding cavity for the G proteins. The pocket is opened sufficiently to accommodate a bulky binding motif in Gs. Gi1 can still bind but the pocket does not close around it, so there is a smaller interaction interface.

Science, this issue p. 1346


Class B G protein–coupled receptors, an important class of therapeutic targets, signal mainly through the Gs class of heterotrimeric G proteins, although they do display some promiscuity in G protein binding. Using cryo–electron microscopy, we determined the structures of the human glucagon receptor (GCGR) bound to glucagon and distinct classes of heterotrimeric G proteins, Gs or Gi1. These two structures adopt a similar open binding cavity to accommodate Gs and Gi1. The Gs binding selectivity of GCGR is explained by a larger interaction interface, but there are specific interactions that affect Gi more than Gs binding. Conformational differences in the receptor intracellular loops were found to be key selectivity determinants. These distinctions in transducer engagement were supported by mutagenesis and functional studies.

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