Background: The physiological regulation of G protein-coupled receptors, through desensitization and internalization, modulates the length of the receptor signal and may influence the development of tolerance and dependence in response to chronic drug treatment. To explore the importance of receptor regulation, we engineered a series of Gi-coupled receptors that differ in signal length, degree of agonist-induced internalization, and ability to induce adenylyl cyclase superactivation. All of these receptors, based on the kappa opioid receptor, were modified to be receptors activated solely by synthetic ligands (RASSLs). This modification allows us to compare receptors that have the same ligands and effectors, but differ only in desensitization and internalization.
Results: Removal of phosphorylation sites in the C-terminus of the RASSL resulted in a mutant that was resistant to internalization and less prone to desensitization. Replacement of the C-terminus of the RASSL with the corresponding portion of the mu opioid receptor eliminated the induction of AC superactivation, without disrupting agonist-induced desensitization or internalization. Surprisingly, removal of phosphorylation sites from this chimera resulted in a receptor that is constitutively internalized, even in the absence of agonist. However, the receptor still signals and desensitizes in response to agonist, indicating normal G-protein coupling and partial membrane expression.
Conclusions: These studies reveal that internalization, desensitization and adenylyl cyclase superactivation, all processes that decrease chronic Gi-receptor signals, are independently regulated. Furthermore, specific mutations can radically alter superactivation or internalization without affecting the efficacy of acute Gi signaling. These mutant RASSLs will be useful for further elucidating the temporal dynamics of the signaling of G protein-coupled receptors in vitro and in vivo.