G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) are a major class of membrane proteins belonging to a continuously growing superfamily. These receptors play a critical role in signal transduction, and are among the most important pharmacological drug targets. The first structural model for the GPCR superfamily was the bacterial protein bacteriorhodopsin with its characteristic seven transmembrane (TM) helical architecture. The visual photoreceptor rhodopsin is a better model for GPCR, and the recent elucidation of the crystal structure of bovine rhodopsin has renewed the interest in this receptor as a template for molecular modeling of other GPCR, particularly for the implications in ligand design and drug discovery. In this work different specific structural elements of rhodopsin are reviewed and the role of conserved motifs, like those associated with receptor function, is analyzed. The specific characteristics of the membrane-embedded ligand-binding domain are described. Other aspects, like receptor dimerization or the constitutive activity mechanism, are also outlined. The importance of acquiring knowledge of the active conformation of the receptor by means of both modeling and experimental techniques is also highlighted. In this regard, the model of the activated form of rhodopsin is currently under investigation, and it may provide useful information for pharmaceutical design. Rhodopsin will continue to be a widely used model for GPCR but rhodopsin-based approaches have to be complemented by other theoretical and experimental approaches -while waiting for the crystal structure of other members of the superfamily- if these want to be successfully used for drug discovery.
Keywords: rhodopsin structure, g-protein-coupled receptors, ligand binding domain, molecular modeling, drug design, sitedirected mutagenesis
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