Molecular evolution of the transmembrane domains of G protein-coupled receptors

PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27813. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027813. Epub 2011 Nov 21.


G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are a superfamily of integral membrane proteins vital for signaling and are important targets for pharmaceutical intervention in humans. Previously, we identified a group of ten amino acid positions (called key positions), within the seven transmembrane domain (7TM) interhelical region, which had high mutual information with each other and many other positions in the 7TM. Here, we estimated the evolutionary selection pressure at those key positions. We found that the key positions of receptors for small molecule natural ligands were under strong negative selection. Receptors naturally activated by lipids had weaker negative selection in general when compared to small molecule-activated receptors. Selection pressure varied widely in peptide-activated receptors. We used this observation to predict that a subgroup of orphan GPCRs not under strong selection may not possess a natural small-molecule ligand. In the subgroup of MRGX1-type GPCRs, we identified a key position, along with two non-key positions, under statistically significant positive selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / chemistry*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Receptors, Odorant / chemistry


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Receptors, Odorant