The origin and evolution of G protein-coupled receptor kinases

PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33806. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033806. Epub 2012 Mar 19.


G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) kinases (GRKs) play key role in homologous desensitization of GPCRs. GRKs phosphorylate activated receptors, promoting high affinity binding of arrestins, which precludes G protein coupling. Direct binding to active GPCRs activates GRKs, so that they selectively phosphorylate only the activated form of the receptor regardless of the accessibility of the substrate peptides within it and their Ser/Thr-containing sequence. Mammalian GRKs were classified into three main lineages, but earlier GRK evolution has not been studied. Here we show that GRKs emerged at the early stages of eukaryotic evolution via an insertion of a kinase similar to ribosomal protein S6 kinase into a loop in RGS domain. GRKs in Metazoa fall into two clades, one including GRK2 and GRK3, and the other consisting of all remaining GRKs, split into GRK1-GRK7 lineage and GRK4-GRK5-GRK6 lineage in vertebrates. One representative of each of the two ancient clades is found as early as placozoan Trichoplax adhaerens. Several protists, two oomycetes and unicellular brown algae have one GRK-like protein, suggesting that the insertion of a kinase domain into the RGS domain preceded the origin of Metazoa. The two GRK families acquired distinct structural units in the N- and C-termini responsible for membrane recruitment and receptor association. Thus, GRKs apparently emerged before animals and rapidly expanded in true Metazoa, most likely due to the need for rapid signalling adjustments in fast-moving animals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Oomycetes / genetics
  • Phaeophyta / genetics
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled