Predictable cholesterol binding sites in GPCRs lack consensus motifs

Structure. 2021 May 6;29(5):499-506.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2021.01.004. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


A rich diversity of transmembrane G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are used by eukaryotes to sense physical and chemical signals. In humans alone, 800 GPCRs comprise the largest and most therapeutically targeted receptor class. Recent advances in GPCR structural biology have produced hundreds of GPCR structures solved by X-ray diffraction and increasingly, cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). Many of these structures are stabilized by site-specific cholesterol binding, but it is unclear whether these interactions are a product of recurring cholesterol-binding motifs and if observed patterns of cholesterol binding differ by experimental technique. Here, we comprehensively analyze the location and composition of cholesterol binding sites in the current set of 473 human GPCR structural chains. Our findings establish that cholesterol binds similarly in cryo-EM and X-ray structures and show that 92% of cholesterol molecules on GPCR surfaces reside in predictable locations that lack discernable cholesterol-binding motifs.

Keywords: G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs); X-ray diffraction; cholesterol; cholesterol consensus motif (CCM); cholesterol recognition/interaction amino acid consensus (CRAC) motif; cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM); lipids; structural informatics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Binding Sites
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Consensus Sequence*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Protein Binding
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / chemistry*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Cholesterol