Structural insights into Cys-loop receptor function and ligand recognition

Biochem Pharmacol. 2013 Oct 15;86(8):1042-53. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2013.07.001. Epub 2013 Jul 10.


This review outlines recent insights into ligand recognition, channel gating and ion permeation for the family of pentameric ligand-gated ion channels (pLGICs). These receptors are involved in the fast inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmission. Prototypical anion-selective members are the γ-amino butyric acid type A (GABA(A)), γ-amino butyric acid type C (GABA(C)) and glycine receptor. The cation-selective members are the 5-HT3 serotonin and nicotinic acetylcholine (nACh) receptors. They are the target for a wide variety of drugs and dysfunction in these receptors is associated with several diseases. We summarize recent structural knowledge in combination with electrophysiological data and molecular dynamic simulations, thereby describing key features of ligand binding, channel gating and ion permeation. A conserved cation-π interaction between ligand and aromatic residues of the ligand binding site critically contributes to ligand recognition, as revealed by X-ray crystal structures of acetylcholine binding proteins, as well as the integral pLGICs, ELIC and GluCl. In addition, we summarize the possible downstream effects on gating of structural rearrangements in the extracellular ligand-binding domain, which mainly occur in loop C and loop F. These data are discussed in the context of different conformational states of the pore-forming domain observed in crystal structures of GLIC and GluCl, which likely represent the open pore conformation, and ELIC, which likely corresponds to a closed pore conformation. We conclude with a current structural view on the determinants of ion selection and permeation.

Keywords: Channel gating; Cys-loop receptor; Ion permeation; Ligand recognition; Pentameric ligand-gated ion channel.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cysteine Loop Ligand-Gated Ion Channel Receptors / chemistry*
  • Cysteine Loop Ligand-Gated Ion Channel Receptors / metabolism*
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation


  • Cysteine Loop Ligand-Gated Ion Channel Receptors
  • Ligands