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Mol Pharmacol. 2005 Dec;68(6):1510-23. Epub 2005 Aug 30.

Tweaking agonist efficacy at N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors by site-directed mutagenesis.

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  • 1Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Danish University of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Universitetsparken 2, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.


The structural basis for partial agonism at N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors is currently unresolved. We have characterized several partial agonists at the NR1/NR2B receptor and investigated the mechanisms underlying their reduced efficacy by introducing mutations in the glutamate binding site. Key residues were selected for mutation based on ligand-protein docking studies using a homology model of NR2B-S1S2 built from the X-ray structure of NR1-S1S2 in complex with glycine. Wild-type and mutant forms of NR2B were coexpressed with NR1 in Xenopus laevis oocytes and characterized by two-electrode voltage-clamp electrophysiology. By combining mutagenesis of residues His486 or Val686 with activation by differently substituted partial agonists, we introduce varying degrees of steric clash between the ligand and the two binding domains S1 and S2. In cases where ligand-protein docking predicts increased steric clashes between agonists and the residues forming the S1-S2 interface, the agonists clearly show decreased relative efficacy. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the mutation S690A affects both potency and efficacy in an agonist-specific manner. The results indicate that essential residues in the ligand binding pocket of NR2B may adopt different conformations depending on the agonist bound. Together, these data indicate that agonist efficacy at the NR2B subunit can be controlled by the extent of steric clashes between the agonist and the ligand binding domains and by ligand-dependent arrangements of residues within the binding pocket.

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