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J Mol Signal. 2012 Sep 1;7(1):13. doi: 10.1186/1750-2187-7-13.

The roles played by highly truncated splice variants of G protein-coupled receptors.

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School of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong, SAR, China.


Alternative splicing of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) genes greatly increases the total number of receptor isoforms which may be expressed in a cell-dependent and time-dependent manner. This increased diversity of cell signaling options caused by the generation of splice variants is further enhanced by receptor dimerization. When alternative splicing generates highly truncated GPCRs with less than seven transmembrane (TM) domains, the predominant effect in vitro is that of a dominant-negative mutation associated with the retention of the wild-type receptor in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). For constitutively active (agonist-independent) GPCRs, their attenuated expression on the cell surface, and consequent decreased basal activity due to the dominant-negative effect of truncated splice variants, has pathological consequences. Truncated splice variants may conversely offer protection from disease when expression of co-receptors for binding of infectious agents to cells is attenuated due to ER retention of the wild-type co-receptor. In this review, we will see that GPCRs retained in the ER can still be functionally active but also that highly truncated GPCRs may also be functionally active. Although rare, some truncated splice variants still bind ligand and activate cell signaling responses. More importantly, by forming heterodimers with full-length GPCRs, some truncated splice variants also provide opportunities to generate receptor complexes with unique pharmacological properties. So, instead of assuming that highly truncated GPCRs are associated with faulty transcription processes, it is time to reassess their potential benefit to the host organism.

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