Specific Engineered G Protein Coupling to Histamine Receptors Revealed from Cellular Assay Experiments and Accelerated Molecular Dynamics Simulations

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Sep 17;22(18):10047. doi: 10.3390/ijms221810047.


G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are targets of extracellular stimuli and hence occupy a key position in drug discovery. By specific and not yet fully elucidated coupling profiles with α subunits of distinct G protein families, they regulate cellular responses. The histamine H2 and H4 receptors (H2R and H4R) are prominent members of Gs- and Gi-coupled GPCRs. Nevertheless, promiscuous G protein and selective Gi signaling have been reported for the H2R and H4R, respectively, the molecular mechanism of which remained unclear. Using a combination of cellular experimental assays and Gaussian accelerated molecular dynamics (GaMD) simulations, we investigated the coupling profiles of the H2R and H4R to engineered mini-G proteins (mG). We obtained coupling profiles of the mGs, mGsi, or mGsq proteins to the H2R and H4R from the mini-G protein recruitment assays using HEK293T cells. Compared to H2R-mGs expressing cells, histamine responses were weaker (pEC50, Emax) for H2R-mGsi and -mGsq. By contrast, the H4R selectively bound to mGsi. Similarly, in all-atom GaMD simulations, we observed a preferential binding of H2R to mGs and H4R to mGsi revealed by the structural flexibility and free energy landscapes of the complexes. Although the mG α5 helices were consistently located within the HR binding cavity, alternative binding orientations were detected in the complexes. Due to the specific residue interactions, all mG α5 helices of the H2R complexes adopted the Gs-like orientation toward the receptor transmembrane (TM) 6 domain, whereas in H4R complexes, only mGsi was in the Gi-like orientation toward TM2, which was in agreement with Gs- and Gi-coupled GPCRs structures resolved by X-ray/cryo-EM. These cellular and molecular insights support (patho)physiological profiles of the histamine receptors, especially the hitherto little studied H2R function in the brain, as well as of the pharmacological potential of H4R selective drugs.

Keywords: GPCR–G protein coupling profiles; Gaussian accelerated molecular dynamics (GaMD); engineered G proteins; histamine H2 receptor; histamine H4 receptor; histamine signaling; split-luciferase complementation assay.

MeSH terms

  • Computer Simulation
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / chemistry*
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Histamine / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Ligands*
  • Luciferases / metabolism
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation*
  • Normal Distribution
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Receptors, Histamine / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Histamine H2 / metabolism
  • Receptors, Histamine H4 / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • X-Rays


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Histamine
  • Receptors, Histamine H2
  • Receptors, Histamine H4
  • Histamine
  • Luciferases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins