G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are one of the most important target classes in the central nervous system (CNS) drug discovery, however the fact they are integral membrane proteins and are unstable when purified out of the cell precludes them from a wide range of structural and biophysical techniques that are used for soluble proteins. In this study we demonstrate how protein engineering methods can be used to identify mutations which can both increase the thermostability of receptors, when purified in detergent, as well as biasing the receptor towards a specific physiologically relevant conformational state. We demonstrate this method for the adenosine A(2A) receptor and muscarinic M(1) receptor. The resultant stabilised receptors (known as StaRs) have a pharmacological profile consistent with the inverse agonist conformation. The stabilised receptors can be purified in large quantities, whilst retaining correct folding, thus generating reagents suitable for a broad range of structural and biophysical studies. In the case of the A(2A)-StaR we demonstrate that surface plasmon resonance can be used to profile the association and dissociation rates of a range of antagonists, a technique that can be used to improve the in vivo efficacy of receptor antagonists.
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