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Studying GPCR conformational dynamics by single molecule fluorescence

Quast, Robert B., Margeat, Emmanuel
Molecular and cellular endocrinology 2019 v.493 pp. 110469
G-protein coupled receptors, G-proteins, energy transfer, fluorescence, glutamate receptors, ligands, monitoring, signal transduction
Over the last decades, G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) have experienced a tremendous amount of attention, which has led to a boost of structural and pharmacological insights on this large membrane protein superfamily involved in various essential physiological functions. Recently, evidence has emerged that, rather than being activated by ligands in an on/off manner switching from an inactive to an active state, GPCRs exhibit high structural flexibility in the absence and even in the presence of ligands. So far the physiological as well as pharmacological impact of this structural flexibility remains largely unexplored albeit its potential role in precisely fine-tuning receptor function and regulating the specificity of signal transduction into the cell. By complementing other biophysical approaches, single molecule fluorescence (SMF) offers the advantage of monitoring structural dynamics in biomolecules in real-time, with minimal structural invasiveness and in the context of complex biological environments. In this review a general introduction to GPCR structural dynamics is given followed by a presentation of SMF methods used to explore them. Particular attention is paid to single molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET), a key method to measure actual distance changes between two probes, and highlight conformational changes occurring at timescales relevant for protein conformational movements. The available literature reporting on GPCR structural dynamics by SMF is discussed with a focus on the newly gained biological insights on receptor activation and signaling, in particular for the β2 adrenergic and the metabotropic glutamate receptors.