Structural insights into agonist-induced activation of G-protein-coupled receptors

Curr Opin Struct Biol. 2011 Aug;21(4):541-51. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2011 Jun 30.


Recent years have seen tremendous breakthroughs in structure determination of G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). In 2011, two agonist-bound active-state structures of rhodopsin have been published. Together with structures of several rhodopsin activation intermediates and a wealth of biochemical and spectroscopic information, they provide a unique structural framework on which to understand GPCR activation. Here we use this framework to compare the recent crystal structures of the agonist-bound active states of the β(2) adrenergic receptor (β(2)AR) and the A(2A) adenosine receptor (A(2A)AR). While activation of these three GPCRs results in rearrangements of TM5 and TM6, the extent of this conformational change varies considerably. Displacements of the cytoplasmic side of TM6 ranges between 3 and 8Å depending on whether selective stabilizers of the active conformation are used (i.e. a G-protein peptide in the case of rhodopsin or a conformationally selective nanobody in the case of the β(2)AR) or not (A(2A)AR). The agonist-induced conformational changes in the ligand-binding pocket are largely receptor specific due to the different chemical nature of the agonists. However, several similarities can be observed, including a relocation of conserved residues W6.48 and F6.44 towards L5.51 and P5.50, and of I/L3.40 away from P5.50. This transmission switch links agonist binding to the movement of TM5 and TM6 through the rearrangement of the TM3-TM5-TM6 interface, and possibly constitutes a common theme of GPCR activation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine A2 Receptor Agonists / metabolism
  • Adenosine A2 Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / metabolism
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A / chemistry
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A / metabolism
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2 / chemistry
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / agonists
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / chemistry*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Rhodopsin / agonists
  • Rhodopsin / chemistry
  • Rhodopsin / metabolism


  • Adenosine A2 Receptor Agonists
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Receptor, Adenosine A2A
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Rhodopsin