Molecular basis of cannabinoid CB1 receptor coupling to the G protein heterotrimer Gαiβγ: identification of key CB1 contacts with the C-terminal helix α5 of Gαi

J Biol Chem. 2013 Nov 8;288(45):32449-65. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.489153. Epub 2013 Oct 3.


The cannabinoid (CB1) receptor is a member of the rhodopsin-like G protein-coupled receptor superfamily. The human CB1 receptor, which is among the most expressed receptors in the brain, has been implicated in several disease states, including drug addiction, anxiety, depression, obesity, and chronic pain. Different classes of CB1 agonists evoke signaling pathways through the activation of specific subtypes of G proteins. The molecular basis of CB1 receptor coupling to its cognate G protein is unknown. As a first step toward understanding CB1 receptor-mediated G protein signaling, we have constructed a ternary complex structural model of the CB1 receptor and Gi heterotrimer (CB1-Gi), guided by the x-ray structure of β2-adrenergic receptor (β2AR) in complex with Gs (β2AR-Gs), through 824-ns duration molecular dynamics simulations in a fully hydrated 1-palmitoyl-2-oleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine bilayer environment. We identified a group of residues at the juxtamembrane regions of the intracellular loops 2 and 3 (IC2 and IC3) of the CB1 receptor, including Ile-218(3.54), Tyr-224(IC2), Asp-338(6.30), Arg-340(6.32), Leu-341(6.33), and Thr-344(6.36), as potential key contacts with the extreme C-terminal helix α5 of Gαi. Ala mutations of these residues at the receptor-Gi interface resulted in little G protein coupling activity, consistent with the present model of the CB1-Gi complex, which suggests tight interactions between CB1 and the extreme C-terminal helix α5 of Gαi. The model also suggests that unique conformational changes in the extreme C-terminal helix α5 of Gα play a crucial role in the receptor-mediated G protein activation.

Keywords: Cannabinoid Receptors; Computer Modeling; G Protein-coupled Receptors (GPCR); G Proteins; Molecular Dynamics; Mutagenesis; Protein-Protein Interactions; Signaling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits / chemistry*
  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits / genetics
  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits / metabolism
  • GTP-Binding Protein beta Subunits / chemistry*
  • GTP-Binding Protein beta Subunits / genetics
  • GTP-Binding Protein beta Subunits / metabolism
  • GTP-Binding Protein gamma Subunits / chemistry*
  • GTP-Binding Protein gamma Subunits / genetics
  • GTP-Binding Protein gamma Subunits / metabolism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Protein Structure, Quaternary
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / chemistry*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism


  • GTP-Binding Protein alpha Subunits
  • GTP-Binding Protein beta Subunits
  • GTP-Binding Protein gamma Subunits
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1