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Nat Struct Mol Biol. 2011 Mar;18(3):283-7. doi: 10.1038/nsmb.2010. Epub 2011 Feb 13.

The hidden energetics of ligand binding and activation in a glutamate receptor.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.


Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) are ligand-gated ion channels that mediate most excitatory synaptic transmission in the central nervous system. The free energy of neurotransmitter binding to the ligand-binding domains (LBDs) of iGluRs is converted into useful work to drive receptor activation. We have computed the principal thermodynamic contributions from ligand docking and ligand-induced closure of LBDs for nine ligands of GluA2 using all-atom molecular dynamics free energy simulations. We have validated the results by comparison with experimentally measured apparent affinities to the isolated LBD. Features in the free energy landscapes that govern closure of LBDs are key determinants of binding free energies. An analysis of accessible LBD conformations transposed into the context of an intact GluA2 receptor revealed that the relative displacement of specific diagonal subunits in the tetrameric structure may be key to the action of partial agonists.

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