Ranganathan A, Dror RO, Carlsson J
Biochemistry 53 (46) 7283-7296 [2014-11-25; online 2014-11-12]
Achieving a molecular-level understanding of G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) activation has been a long-standing goal in biology and could be important for the development of novel drugs. Recent breakthroughs in structural biology have led to the determination of high-resolution crystal structures for the β2 adrenergic receptor (β2AR) in inactive and active states, which provided an unprecedented opportunity to understand receptor signaling at the atomic level. We used molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to explore the potential roles of ionizable residues in β2AR activation. One such residue is the strongly conserved Asp79(2.50), which is buried in a transmembrane cavity and becomes dehydrated upon β2AR activation. MD free energy calculations based on β2AR crystal structures suggested an increase in the population of the protonated state of Asp79(2.50) upon activation, which may contribute to the experimentally observed pH-dependent activation of this receptor. Analysis of MD simulations (in total > 100 μs) with two different protonation states further supported the conclusion that the protonated Asp79(2.50) shifts the conformation of the β2AR toward more active-like states. On the basis of our calculations and analysis of other GPCR crystal structures, we suggest that the protonation state of Asp(2.50) may act as a functionally important microswitch in the activation of the β2AR and other class A receptors.