Illuminating the life of GPCRs

Cell Commun Signal. 2009 Jul 14:7:16. doi: 10.1186/1478-811X-7-16.


The investigation of biological systems highly depends on the possibilities that allow scientists to visualize and quantify biomolecules and their related activities in real-time and non-invasively. G-protein coupled receptors represent a family of very dynamic and highly regulated transmembrane proteins that are involved in various important physiological processes. Since their localization is not confined to the cell surface they have been a very attractive "moving target" and the understanding of their intracellular pathways as well as the identified protein-protein-interactions has had implications for therapeutic interventions. Recent and ongoing advances in both the establishment of a variety of labeling methods and the improvement of measuring and analyzing instrumentation, have made fluorescence techniques to an indispensable tool for GPCR imaging. The illumination of their complex life cycle, which includes receptor biosynthesis, membrane targeting, ligand binding, signaling, internalization, recycling and degradation, will provide new insights into the relationship between spatial receptor distribution and function. This review covers the existing technologies to track GPCRs in living cells. Fluorescent ligands, antibodies, auto-fluorescent proteins as well as the evolving technologies for chemical labeling with peptide- and protein-tags are described and their major applications concerning the GPCR life cycle are presented.