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J Biol Chem. 2010 Dec 17;285(51):40351-61. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.186072. Epub 2010 Oct 21.

Structural basis for hormone recognition by the Human CRFR2{alpha} G protein-coupled receptor.

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  • 1Laboratory of Structural Sciences, Van Andel Research Institute, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503, USA.


The mammalian corticotropin releasing factor (CRF)/urocortin (Ucn) peptide hormones include four structurally similar peptides, CRF, Ucn1, Ucn2, and Ucn3, that regulate stress responses, metabolism, and cardiovascular function by activating either of two related class B G protein-coupled receptors, CRFR1 and CRFR2. CRF and Ucn1 activate both receptors, whereas Ucn2 and Ucn3 are CRFR2-selective. The molecular basis for selectivity is unclear. Here, we show that the purified N-terminal extracellular domains (ECDs) of human CRFR1 and the CRFR2α isoform are sufficient to discriminate the peptides, and we present three crystal structures of the CRFR2α ECD bound to each of the Ucn peptides. The CRFR2α ECD forms the same fold observed for the CRFR1 and mouse CRFR2β ECDs but contains a unique N-terminal α-helix formed by its pseudo signal peptide. The CRFR2α ECD peptide-binding site architecture is similar to that of CRFR1, and binding of the α-helical Ucn peptides closely resembles CRF binding to CRFR1. Comparing the electrostatic surface potentials of the ECDs suggests a charge compatibility mechanism for ligand discrimination involving a single amino acid difference in the receptors (CRFR1 Glu104/CRFR2α Pro-100) at a site proximate to peptide residue 35 (Arg in CRF/Ucn1, Ala in Ucn2/3). CRFR1 Glu-104 acts as a selectivity filter preventing Ucn2/3 binding because the nonpolar Ala-35 is incompatible with the negatively charged Glu-104. The structures explain the mechanisms of ligand recognition and discrimination and provide a molecular template for the rational design of therapeutic agents selectively targeting these receptors.

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