G protein–coupled receptor
GPCRs respond to extracellular signals mediated by a huge diversity of agonists, ranging from proteins to biogenic amines to protons, but all transduce this signal via a mechanism of G-protein coupling. This is made possible by a guanine-nucleotide exchange factor (GEF) domain primarily formed by a combination of IL-2 and IL-3 along with adjacent residues of the associated TM helices.
The G protein-coupled receptor is activated by an external signal in the form of a ligand or other signal mediator. This creates a conformational change in the receptor, causing activation of a G protein. Further effect depends on the type of G protein. G proteins are subsequently inactivated by GTPase activating proteins, known as RGS proteins.
GPCRs include: receptors for sensory signal mediators (e.g., light and olfactory stimulatory molecules); adenosine, bombesin, bradykinin, endothelin, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), melanocortins, neuropeptide Y, opioid peptides, opsins, somatostatin, GH, tachykinins, members of the vasoactive intestinal peptide family, and vasopressin; biogenic amines (e.g., dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, histamine, glutamate (metabotropic effect), glucagon, acetylcholine (muscarinic effect), and serotonin); chemokines; lipid mediators of inflammation (e.g., prostaglandins, prostanoids, platelet-activating factor, and leukotrienes); and peptide hormones (e.g., calcitonin, C5a anaphylatoxin, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), neurokinin, thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), cannabinoids, and oxytocin). GPCRs that act as receptors for stimuli that have not yet been identified are known as orphan receptors.
However, in other types of receptors that have been studied, wherein ligands bind externally to the membrane, the ligands of GPCRs typically bind within the transmembrane domain. However, protease-activated receptors are activated by cleavage of part of their extracellular domain.
The transduction of the signal through the membrane by the receptor is not completely understood. It is known that in the inactive state, the GPCR is bound to a heterotrimeric G protein complex. Binding of an agonist to the GPCR results in a conformation change in the receptor that is transmitted to the bound Gα subunit of the heterotrimeric G protein. The activated Gα subunit exchanges GTP in place of GDP which in turn triggers the dissociation of Gα subunit from the Gβγ dimer and from the receptor. The dissociated Gα and Gβγ subunits interact with other intracellular proteins to continue the signal transduction cascade while the freed GPCR is able to rebind to another heterotrimeric G protein to form a new complex that is ready to initiate another round of signal transduction.
It is believed that a receptor molecule exists in a conformational equilibrium between active and inactive biophysical states. The binding of ligands to the receptor may shift the equilibrium toward the active receptor states. Three types of ligands exist: Agonists are ligands that shift the equilibrium in favour of active states; inverse agonists are ligands that shift the equilibrium in favour of inactive states; and neutral antagonists are ligands that do not affect the equilibrium. It is not yet known how exactly the active and inactive states differ from each other.
G-protein activation/deactivation cycle
When the receptor is inactive, the GEF domain may be bound to an also inactive α-subunit of a heterotrimeric G-protein. These "G-proteins" are a trimer of α, β, and γ subunits (known as Gα, Gβ, and Gγ, respectively) that is rendered inactive when reversibly bound to Guanosine diphosphate (GDP) (or, alternatively, no guanine nucleotide) but active when bound to Guanosine triphosphate (GTP). Upon receptor activation, the GEF domain, in turn, allosterically activates the G-protein by facilitating the exchange of a molecule of GDP for GTP at the G-protein's α-subunit. The cell maintains a 10:1 ratio of cytosolic GTP:GDP so exchange for GTP is ensured. At this point, the subunits of the G-protein dissociate from the receptor, as well as each other, to yield a Gα-GTP monomer and a tightly interacting Gβγ dimer, which are now free to modulate the activity of other intracellular proteins. The extent to which they may diffuse, however, is limited due to the palmitoylation of Gα and the presence of an isoprenoid moiety that has been covalently added to the C-termini of Gγ.
Because Gα also has slow GTP→GDP hydrolysis capability, the inactive form of the α-subunit (Gα-GDP) is eventually regenerated, thus allowing reassociation with a Gβγ dimer to form the "resting" G-protein, which can again bind to a GPCR and await activation. The rate of GTP hydrolysis is often accelerated due to the actions of another family of allosteric modulating proteins called Regulators of G-protein Signaling, or RGS proteins, which are a type of GTPase-Activating Protein, or GAP. In fact, many of the primary effector proteins (e.g., adenylate cyclases) that become activated/inactivated upon interaction with Gα-GTP also have GAP activity. Thus, even at this early stage in the process, GPCR-initiated signaling has the capacity for self-termination.
If a receptor in an active state encounters a G protein, it may activate it. Some evidence suggests that receptors and G proteins are actually pre-coupled. For example, binding of G proteins to receptors affects the receptor's affinity for ligands. Activated G proteins are bound to GTP.
Further signal transduction depends on the type of G protein. The enzyme adenylate cyclase is an example of a cellular protein that can be regulated by a G protein, in this case the G protein Gs. Adenylate cyclase activity is activated when it binds to a subunit of the activated G protein. Activation of adenylate cyclase ends when the G protein returns to the GDP-bound state.
Adenylate cyclases (of which 9 membrane-bound and one cytosolic forms are known in humans) may also be activated or inhibited in other ways (e.g., Ca2+/Calmodulin binding), which can modify the activity of these enzymes in an additive or synergistic fashion along with the G proteins.
The signaling pathways activated through a GPCR are limited by the primary sequence and tertiary structure of the GPCR itself but ultimately determined by the particular conformation stabilized by a particular ligand, as well as the availability of transducer molecules. Currently, GPCRs are considered to utilize two primary types of transducers: G-proteins and β-arrestins. Because β-arr’s have high affinity only to the phosphorylated form of most GPCRs (see above or below), the majority of signaling is ultimately dependent upon G-protein activation. However, the possibility for interaction does allow for G-protein-independent signaling to occur.
There are three main G-protein-mediated signaling pathways, mediated by four sub-classes of G-proteins distinguished from each other by sequence homology (Gαs, Gαi/o, Gαq/11, and Gα12/13). Each sub-class of G-protein consists of multiple proteins, each the product of multiple genes and/or splice variations that may imbue them with differences ranging from subtle to distinct with regard to signaling properties, but in general they appear reasonably grouped into four classes. Because the signal transducing properties of the various possible βγ combinations do not appear to radically differ from one another, these classes are defined according to the isoform of their α-subunit.:1163
While most GPCRs are capable of activating more than one Gα-subtype, they also show a preference for one subtype over another. When the subtype activated depends on the ligand that is bound to the GPCR, this is called functional selectivity (also known as agonist-directed trafficking, or conformation-specific agonism). However, the binding of any single particular agonist may also initiate activation of multiple different G-proteins, as it may be capable of stabilizing more than one conformation of the GPCR’s GEF domain, even over the course of a single interaction. In addition, a conformation that preferably activates one isoform of Gα may activate another if the preferred is less available. Furthermore, feedback pathways may result in receptor modifications (e.g., phosphorylation) that alter the G-protein preference. Regardless of these various nuances, the GPCR’s preferred coupling partner is usually defined according to the G-protein most obviously activated by the endogenous ligand under most physiological and/or experimental conditions.
- The effector of both the Gαs and Gαi/o pathways is the cyclic-adenosine monophosphate (cAMP)-generating enzyme adenylate cyclase, or AC. While there are ten different AC gene products in mammals, each with subtle differences in tissue distribution and/or function, all catalyze the conversion of cytosolic adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to cAMP, and all are directly stimulated by G-proteins of the Gαs class. In contrast, however, interaction with Gα subunits of the Gαi/o type inhibits AC from generating cAMP. Thus, a GPCR coupled to Gαs counteracts the actions of a GPCR coupled to Gαi/o, and vice versa. The level of cytosolic cAMP may then determine the activity of various ion channels as well as members of the ser/thr-specific protein kinase A (PKA) family. Thus cAMP is considered a second messenger and PKA a secondary effector.
- The effector of the Gαq/11 pathway is phospholipase C-β (PLCβ), which catalyzes the cleavage of membrane-bound phosphatidylinositol 4,5-biphosphate (PIP2) into the second messengers inositol (1,4,5) trisphosphate (IP3) and diacylglycerol (DAG). IP3 acts on IP3 receptors found in the membrane of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to elicit Ca2+ release from the ER, while DAG diffuses along the plasma membrane where it may activate any membrane localized forms of a second ser/thr kinase called protein kinase C (PKC). Since many isoforms of PKC are also activated by increases in intracellular Ca2+, both these pathways can also converge on each other to signal through the same secondary effector. Elevated intracellular Ca2+ also binds and allosterically activates proteins called calmodulins, which in turn go on to bind and allosterically activate enzymes such as Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinases (CAMKs).
- The effectors of the Gα12/13 pathway are three RhoGEFs (p115-RhoGEF, PDZ-RhoGEF, and LARG), which, when bound to Gα12/13 allosterically activate the cytosolic small GTPase, Rho. Once bound to GTP, Rho can then go on to activate various proteins responsible for cytoskeleton regulation such as Rho-kinase (ROCK). Most GPCRs that couple to Gα12/13 also couple to other sub-classes, often Gαq/11.
The above descriptions ignore the effects of Gβγ–signalling, which can also be important, in particular in the case of activated Gαi/o-coupled GPCRs. The primary effectors of Gβγ are various ion channels, such as G-protein-regulated inwardly rectifying K+ channels (GIRKs), P/Q- and N-type voltage-gated Ca2+ channels, as well as some isoforms of AC and PLC, along with some phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) isoforms.
Although they are classically thought of working only together, GPCRs may signal through G-protein-independent mechanisms, and heterotrimeric G-proteins may play functional roles independent of GPCRs. GPCRs may signal independently through many proteins already mentioned for their roles in G-protein-dependent signaling such as β-arrs, GRKs, and Srcs. In addition, further scaffolding proteins involved in subcellular localization of GPCRs (e.g., PDZ-domain-containing proteins) may also act as signal transducers. Most often the effector is a member of the MAPK family.
In the late 1990s, evidence began accumulating to suggest that some GPCRs are able to signal without G proteins. The ERK2 mitogen-activated protein kinase, a key signal transduction mediator downstream of receptor activation in many pathways, has been shown to be activated in response to cAMP-mediated receptor activation in the slime mold D. discoideum despite the absence of the associated G protein α- and β-subunits.
In mammalian cells, the much-studied β2-adrenoceptor has been demonstrated to activate the ERK2 pathway after arrestin-mediated uncoupling of G-protein-mediated signaling. Therefore, it seems likely that some mechanisms previously believed related purely to receptor desensitisation are actually examples of receptors switching their signaling pathway, rather than simply being switched off.
In kidney cells, the bradykinin receptor B2 has been shown to interact directly with a protein tyrosine phosphatase. The presence of a tyrosine-phosphorylated ITIM (immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motif) sequence in the B2 receptor is necessary to mediate this interaction and subsequently the antiproliferative effect of bradykinin.
GPCR-independent signaling by heterotrimeric G-proteins
Although it is a relatively immature area of research, it appears that heterotrimeric G-proteins may also take part in non-GPCR signaling. There is evidence for roles as signal transducers in nearly all other types of receptor-mediated signaling, including integrins, receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), cytokine receptors (JAK/STATs), as well as modulation of various other "accessory" proteins such as GEFs, Guanine-nucleotide Dissociation Inhibitors (GDIs) and protein phosphatases. There may even be specific proteins of these classes whose primary function is as part of GPCR-independent pathways, termed Activators of G-protein Signalling (AGS). Both the ubiquity of these interactions and the importance of Gα vs. Gβγ subunits to these processes are still unclear.
Details of cAMP and PIP2 pathways
cAMP signal pathway
The cAMP signal transduction contains 5 main characters: stimulative hormone receptor (Rs) or inhibitory hormone receptor (Ri); stimulative regulative G-protein (Gs) or inhibitory regulative G-protein (Gi); adenylyl cyclase; protein kinase A (PKA); and cAMP phosphodiesterase.
Stimulative hormone receptor (Rs) is a receptor that can bind with stimulative signal molecules, while inhibitory hormone receptor (Ri) is a receptor that can bind with inhibitory signal molecules.
Stimulative regulative G-protein is a G-protein linked to stimulative hormone receptor (Rs), and its α subunit upon activation could stimulate the activity of an enzyme or other intracellular metabolism. On the contrary, inhibitory regulative G-protein is linked to an inhibitory hormone receptor, and its α subunit upon activation could inhibit the activity of an enzyme or other intracellular metabolism.
Adenylyl cyclase is a 12-transmembrane glycoprotein that catalyzes ATP to form cAMP with the help of cofactor Mg2+ or Mn2+. The cAMP produced is a second messenger in cellular metabolism and is an allosteric activator of protein kinase A.
Protein kinase A is an important enzyme in cell metabolism due to its ability to regulate cell metabolism by phosphorylating specific committed enzymes in the metabolic pathway. It can also regulate specific gene expression, cellular secretion, and membrane permeability. The protein enzyme contains two catalytic subunits and two regulatory subunits. When there is no cAMP，the complex is inactive. When cAMP binds to the regulatory subunits, their conformation is altered, causing the dissociation of the regulatory subunits, which activates protein kinase A and allows further biological effects.
These signals then can be terminated by cAMP phosphodiesterase, which is an enzyme that degrades cAMP to 5'-AMP and inactivates protein kinase A.
Phosphatidylinositol signal pathway
In the phosphatidylinositol signal pathway, the extracellular signal molecule binds with the G-protein receptor (Gq) on the cell surface and activates phospholipase C, which is located on the plasma membrane. The lipase hydrolyzes phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) into two second messengers: inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) and diacylglycerol (DAG). IP3 binds with the IP3 receptor in the membrane of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria to open Ca2+ channels. DAG helps activate protein kinase C (PKC), which phosphorylates many other proteins, changing their catalytic activities, leading to cellular responses.
The effects of Ca2+ are also remarkable: it cooperates with DAG in activating PKC and can activate the CaM kinase pathway, in which calcium-modulated protein calmodulin (CaM) binds Ca2+, undergoes a change in conformation, and activates CaM kinase II, which has unique ability to increase its binding affinity to CaM by autophosphorylation, making CaM unavailable for the activation of other enzymes. The kinase then phosphorylates target enzymes, regulating their activities. The two signal pathways are connected together by Ca2+-CaM, which is also a regulatory subunit of adenylyl cyclase and phosphodiesterase in the cAMP signal pathway.
GPCRs become desensitized when exposed to their ligand for a prolonged period of time. There are two recognized forms of desensitization: 1) homologous desensitization, in which the activated GPCR is downregulated; and 2) heterologous desensitization, wherein the activated GPCR causes downregulation of a different GPCR. The key reaction of this downregulation is the phosphorylation of the intracellular (or cytoplasmic) receptor domain by protein kinases.
Phosphorylation by cAMP-dependent protein kinases
Cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinases (protein kinase A) are activated by the signal chain coming from the G protein (that was activated by the receptor) via adenylate cyclase and cyclic AMP (cAMP). In a feedback mechanism, these activated kinases phosphorylate the receptor. The longer the receptor remains active the more kinases are activated and the more receptors are phosphorylated. In β2-adrenoceptors, this phosphorylation results in the switching of the coupling from the Gs class of G-protein to the Gi class. cAMP-dependent PKA mediated phosphorylation can cause heterologous desensitisation in receptors other than those activated.
Phosphorylation by GRKs
The G protein-coupled receptor kinases (GRKs) are protein kinases that phosphorylate only active GPCRs. G-protein-coupled receptor kinases (GRKs) are key modulators of G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling. They constitute a family of seven mammalian serine-threonine protein kinases that phosphorylate agonist-bound receptor. GRKs-mediated receptor phosphorylation rapidly initiates profound impairment of receptor signaling and desensitization. Activity of GRKs and subcellular targeting is tightly regulated by interaction with receptor domains, G protein subunits, lipids, anchoring proteins and calcium-sensitive proteins.
Phosphorylation of the receptor can have two consequences:
- Translocation: The receptor is, along with the part of the membrane it is embedded in, brought to the inside of the cell, where it is dephosphorylated within the acidic vesicular environment and then brought back. This mechanism is used to regulate long-term exposure, for example, to a hormone, by allowing resensitisation to follow desensitisation. Alternatively, the receptor may undergo lysozomal degradation, or remain internalised, where it is thought to participate in the initiation of signalling events, the nature of which depending on the internalised vesicle's subcellular localisation.
- Arrestin linking: The phosphorylated receptor can be linked to arrestin molecules that prevent it from binding (and activating) G proteins, in effect switching it off for a short period of time. This mechanism is used, for example, with rhodopsin in retina cells to compensate for exposure to bright light. In many cases, arrestin's binding to the receptor is a prerequisite for translocation. For example, beta-arrestin bound to β2-adrenoreceptors acts as an adaptor for binding with clathrin, and with the beta-subunit of AP2 (clathrin adaptor molecules); thus, the arrestin here acts as a scaffold assembling the components needed for clathrin-mediated endocytosis of β2-adrenoreceptors.
Mechanisms of GPCR signal termination
As mentioned above, G-proteins may terminate their own activation due to their intrinsic GTP→GDP hydrolysis capability. However, this reaction proceeds at a slow rate (≈.02 times/sec) and, thus, it would take around 50 seconds for any single G-protein to deactivate if other factors did not come into play. Indeed, there are around 30 isoforms of RGS proteins that, when bound to Gα through their GAP domain, accelerate the hydrolysis rate to ≈30 times/sec. This 1500-fold increase in rate allows for the cell to respond to external signals with high speed, as well as spatial resolution due to limited amount of second messenger that can be generated and limited distance a G-protein can diffuse in .03 seconds. For the most part, the RGS proteins are promiscuous in their ability to activate G-proteins, while which RGS is involved in a given signaling pathway seems more determined by the tissue and GPCR involved than anything else. In addition, RGS proteins have the additional function of increasing the rate of GTP-GDP exchange at GPCRs, (i.e., as a sort of co-GEF) further contributing to the time resolution of GPCR signaling.
In addition, the GPCR may be desensitized itself. This can occur as:
- a direct result of ligand occupation, wherein the change in conformation allows recruitment of GPCR-Regulating Kinases (GRKs), which go on to phosphorylate various serine/threonine residues of IL-3 and the C-terminal tail. Upon GRK phosphorylation, the GPCR's affinity for β-arrestin (β-arrestin-1/2 in most tissues) is increased, at which point β-arrestin may bind and act to both sterically hinder G-protein coupling as well as initiate the process of receptor internalization through clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Because only the liganded receptor is desensitized by this mechanism, it is called homologous desensitization
- the affinity for β-arrestin may be increased in a ligand occupation and GRK-independent manner through phosphorylation of different ser/thr sites (but also of IL-3 and the C-terminal tail) by PKC and PKA. These phosphorylations are often sufficient to impair G-protein coupling on their own as well.
- PKC/PKA may, instead, phosphorylate GRKs, which can also lead to GPCR phosphorylation and β-arrestin binding in an occupation-independent manner. These latter two mechanisms allow for desensitization of one GPCR due to the activities of others, or heterologous desensitization. GRKs may also have GAP domains and so may contribute to inactivation through non-kinase mechanisms as well. A combination of these mechanisms may also occur.
Once β-arrestin is bound to a GPCR, it undergoes a conformational change allowing it to serve as a scaffolding protein for an adaptor complex termed AP-2, which in turn recruits another protein called clathrin. If enough receptors in the local area recruit clathrin in this manner, they aggregate and the membrane buds inwardly as a result of interactions between the molecules of clathrin, in a process called opsonization. Once the pit has been pinched off, the plasma membrane due to the actions of two other proteins called amphiphysin and dynamin, it is now an endocytic vesicle. At this point, the adapter molecules and clathrin have dissociated, and the receptor is either trafficked back to the plasma membrane or targeted to lysosomes for degradation.
At any point in this process, the β-arrestins may also recruit other proteins—such as the non-receptor tyrosine kinase (nRTK), c-SRC—which may activate ERK1/2, or other mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling through, for example, phosphorylation of the small GTP-ase, Ras, or recruit the proteins of the ERK cascade directly (i.e., Raf-1, MEK, ERK-1/2) at which point signaling is initiated due to their close proximity to one another. Another target of c-SRC are the dynamin molecules involved in endocytosis. Dynamins polymerize around the neck of an incoming vesicle, and their phosphorylation by c-SRC provides the energy necessary for the conformational change allowing the final "pinching off" from the membrane.
GPCR cellular regulation
Receptor desensitization is mediated through a combination phosphorylation, β-arr binding, and endocytosis as described above. Downregulation occurs when endocytosed receptor is embedded in an endosome that is trafficked to merge with an organelle called a lysosome. Because lysosomal membranes are rich in proton pumps, their interiors have low pH (≈4.8 vs. the pH≈7.2 cytosol), which acts to denature the GPCRs. In addition, lysosomes contain many degradative enzymes, including proteases, which can function only at such low pH, and so the peptide bonds joining the residues of the GPCR together may be cleaved. Whether or not a given receptor is trafficked to a lysosome, detained in endosomes, or trafficked back to the plasma membrane depends on a variety of factors, including receptor type and magnitude of the signal. GPCR regulation is additionally mediated by gene transcription factors. These factors can increase or decrease gene transcription and thus increase or decrease the generation of new receptors (up- or down-regulation) that travel to the cell membrane.
G-protein-coupled receptor oligomerisation is a widespread phenomenon. One of the best-studied examples is the metabotropic GABAB receptor. This so-called constitutive receptor is formed by heterodimerization of GABABR1 and GABABR2 subunits. Expression of the GABABR1 without the GABABR2 in heterologous systems leads to retention of the subunit in the endoplasmic reticulum. Expression of the GABABR2 subunit alone, meanwhile, leads to surface expression of the subunit, although with no functional activity (i.e., the receptor does not bind agonist and cannot initiate a response following exposure to agonist). Expression of the two subunits together leads to plasma membrane expression of functional receptor. It has been shown that GABABR2 binding to GABABR1 causes masking of a retention signal of functional receptors.
Origin and diversification of the superfamily
Signal transduction mediated by the superfamily of GPCRs dates back to the origin of multicellularity. Mammalian-like GPCRs are found in fungi, and have been classified according to the GRAFS classification system based on GPCR fingerprints. Identification of the superfamily members across the eukaryotic domain, and comparison of the family-specific motifs, have shown that the superfamily of GPCRs have a common origin. Characteristic motifs indicate that three of the five GRAFS families, Rhodopsin, Adhesion, and Frizzled, evolved from the Dictyostelium discoideum cAMP receptors before the split of Opisthokonts. Later, the Secretin family evolved from the Adhesion GPCR receptor family before the split of nematodes.
A novel GPCR containing a lipid kinase domain has recently been identified in Dictyostelium discoideum that regulates cell density sensing.
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