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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Feb 22;102(8):2719-24. Epub 2005 Feb 14.

Disulfide trapping to localize small-molecule agonists and antagonists for a G protein-coupled receptor.

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Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, 341 Oyster Point Boulevard, South San Francisco, CA 94080, USA.


A key question regarding the signaling mechanism for G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) is what triggers agonism versus antagonism. Peptide analogs derived from the chemokine, complement fragment 5 anaphylatoxin (C5a), can act as agonists or antagonists to the C5a receptor, a member of the GPCR family [Gerber, B. O., Meng, E. C., Dotsch, V., Baranski, T. J. & Bourne, H. R. (2001) J. Biol. Chem. 276, 3394-4000]. Recently, we showed that two Cys residues engineered near a proposed binding site in the C5a receptor on transmembrane helices III and VI can selectively and reversibly trap short Cys-containing 3-mer peptides derived from C5a by disulfide bond formation [Buck, E. A., Bourne, H. & Wells, J. A. (November 18, 2004) J. Biol. Chem., 10.1074/jbc.C400500200]. Here, a library of 10,000 compounds, each containing an exchangeable thiol, was screened to identify specific small-molecule mimics that block binding of C5a. Some of the selected compounds acted as agonists and were as potent as the natural C5a ligand, and some acted as antagonists. A residue near these compounds, Ile-116 in helix III, functions as a "gatekeeper" to modulate these effects. A small substitution, Ile-116-Ala, enhanced affinity for some compounds and allowed antagonists to function as agonists; a larger substitution, Ile-116-Trp, decreased affinity and agonism. Thus, subtle changes in either the structure of the ligand or the receptor at the site between helix III, VI, and VII can switch the receptor on or off. This ligand binding and activation site may be similarly positioned in other members of the chemokine receptor family. Selective ligand trapping by reversible disulfide formation may serve to nucleate the development of small-molecule mimics.

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