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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jan;1838(1 Pt A):3-14. doi: 10.1016/j.bbamem.2013.04.007. Epub 2013 Apr 13.

Structural and biophysical characterisation of G protein-coupled receptor ligand binding using resonance energy transfer and fluorescent labelling techniques.

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Molecular Pharmacology Group, Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, UK.


The interaction between ligands and the G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to which they bind has long been the focus of intensive investigation. The signalling cascades triggered by receptor activation, due in most cases to ligand binding, are of great physiological and medical importance; indeed, GPCRs are targeted by in excess of 30% of small molecule therapeutic medicines. Attempts to identify further pharmacologically useful GPCR ligands, for receptors with known and unknown endogenous ligands, continue apace. In earlier days direct assessment of such interactions was restricted largely to the use of ligands incorporating radioactive isotope labels as this allowed detection of the ligand and monitoring its interaction with the GPCR. This use of such markers has continued with the development of ligands labelled with fluorophores and their application to the study of receptor-ligand interactions using both light microscopy and resonance energy transfer techniques, including homogenous time-resolved fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Details of ligand-receptor interactions via X-ray crystallography are advancing rapidly as methods suitable for routine production of substantial amounts and stabilised forms of GPCRs have been developed and there is hope that this may become as routine as the co-crystallisation of serine/threonine kinases with ligands, an approach that has facilitated widespread use of rapid structure-based ligand design. Conformational changes involved in the activation of GPCRs, widely predicted by biochemical and biophysical means, have inspired the development of intramolecular FRET-based sensor forms of GPCRs designed to investigate the events following ligand binding and resulting in a signal propagation across the cell membrane. Finally, a number of techniques are emerging in which ligand-GPCR binding can be studied in ways that, whilst indirect, are able to monitor its results in an unbiased and integrated manner. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Structural and biophysical characterisation of membrane protein-ligand binding.


FRET sensor; FlAsH labelling; Fluorescent ligand; G protein-coupled receptor; Ligand binding

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