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J Biol Chem. 2002 Jun 14;277(24):21522-8. Epub 2002 Apr 8.

Monitoring of ligand-independent dimerization and ligand-induced conformational changes of melatonin receptors in living cells by bioluminescence resonance energy transfer.

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Department of Cell Biology, Institut Cochin, INSERM U 567, CNRS UMR 8104, 22 rue M├ęchain, 75014 Paris, France.


Several G protein-coupled receptors have been shown to exist as homo-and hetero-oligomeric complexes in living cells. However, the link between ligand-induced receptor activation and its oligomerization state as well as the proportion of the total receptor population that can engage in oligomeric complexes remain open questions. Here, the closely related human MT1 and MT2 melatonin receptors (MT1R, MT2R) were used to address these issues. Bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) experiments in living HEK 293 cells revealed that these receptors form homo- and hetero-oligomers. Constitutive energy transfer was observed for all receptor combinations at physiological expression levels and could be detected in single cell BRET experiments. Inhibition of the energy transfer by dilution of the BRET partners identified MT1R and MT2R dimers as the predominant receptor species, and this oligomerization state did not change upon agonist and antagonist binding. Agonists, neutral antagonists, and inverse agonists all promoted increases in BRET values for MT2R but not for MT1R homodimers in living cells and isolated plasma membranes. This indicates that no correlation could be inferred between the receptor activation state and the dimerization state of the receptor. This also suggests that ligand-promoted BRET increases represent specific ligand-induced conformational changes of pre-existing dimers rather then increased dimerization. The observation that ligands favored the energy transfer within the hetero-oligomer from MT1R to MT2R but not in the reverse orientation, from MT2R to MT1R, supports this view.

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