G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs), also called 7TM receptors, form a huge superfamily of membrane proteins that, upon activation by extracellular agonists, pass the signal to the cell interior. Ligands can bind either to extracellular N-terminus and loops (e.g. glutamate receptors) or to the binding site within transmembrane helices (Rhodopsin-like family). They are all activated by agonists although a spontaneous auto-activation of an empty receptor can also be observed. Biochemical and crystallographic methods together with molecular dynamics simulations and other theoretical techniques provided models of the receptor activation based on the action of so-called “molecular switches” buried in the receptor structure. They are changed by agonists but also by inverse agonists evoking an ensemble of activation states leading toward different activation pathways. Switches discovered so far include the ionic lock switch, the 3-7 lock switch, the tyrosine toggle switch linked with the nPxxy motif in TM7, and the transmission switch. The latter one was proposed instead of the tryptophan rotamer toggle switch because no change of the rotamer was observed in structures of activated receptors. The global toggle switch suggested earlier consisting of a vertical rigid motion of TM6, seems also to be implausible based on the recent crystal structures of GPCRs with agonists. Theoretical and experimental methods (crystallography, NMR, specific spectroscopic methods like FRET/BRET but also single-molecule-force-spectroscopy) are currently used to study the effect of ligands on the receptor structure, location of stable structural segments/domains of GPCRs, and to answer the still open question on how ligands are binding: either via ensemble of conformational receptor states or rather via induced fit mechanisms. On the other hand the structural investigations of homoand heterodimers and higher oligomers revealed the mechanism of allosteric signal transmission and receptor activation that could lead to design highly effective and selective allosteric or ago-allosteric drugs.
Keywords: 3-7 lock, 7TM receptors, allosteric, conserved motifs, dimerization, drug design, G-protein-coupled receptors, GPCRs, ionic lock, membrane receptors, molecular switches, receptor activation, signal transduction, transmission switch, tyrosine toggle switch
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