Extended and structurally supported insights into extracellular hormone binding, signal transduction and organization of the thyrotropin receptor

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52920. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052920. Epub 2012 Dec 27.


The hormone thyrotropin (TSH) and its receptor (TSHR) are crucial for the growth and function of the thyroid gland. The TSHR is evolutionary linked with the receptors of follitropin (FSHR) and lutropin/choriogonadotropin (LHR) and their sequences and structures are similar. The extracellular region of TSHR contains more than 350 amino acids and binds hormone and antibodies. Several important questions related to functions and mechanisms of TSHR are still not comprehensively understood. One major reason for these open questions is the lack of any structural information about the extracellular segment of TSHR that connects the N-terminal leucine-rich repeat domain (LRRD) with the transmembrane helix (TMH) 1, the hinge region. It has been shown experimentally that this segment is important for fine tuning of signaling and ligand interactions. A new crystal structure containing most of the extracellular hFSHR region in complex with hFSH has recently been published. Now, we have applied these new structural insights to the homologous TSHR and have generated a structural model of the TSHR LRRD/hinge-region/TSH complex. This structural model is combined and evaluated with experimental data including hormone binding (bTSH, hTSH, thyrostimulin), super-agonistic effects, antibody interactions and signaling regulation. These studies and consideration of significant and non-significant amino acids have led to a new description of mechanisms at the TSHR, including ligand-induced displacements of specific hinge region fragments. This event triggers conformational changes at a convergent center of the LRRD and the hinge region, activating an "intramolecular agonistic unit" close to the transmembrane domain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / chemistry
  • Receptors, Thyrotropin / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Thyrotropin / chemistry
  • Thyrotropin / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Thyrotropin
  • Thyrotropin

Grant support

This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, projects KL2334/2-2 and KR1273/4-1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.