Ion-water coupling controls class A GPCR signal transduction pathways

Neil J. Thomson, Owen N. Vickery, Callum M. Ives, Ulrich Zachariae (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) transmit signals across the cell membrane, forming the largest family of membrane proteins in humans. Most GPCRs activate through an evolutionarily conserved mechanism, which involves reorientation of helices and key residues, rearrangement of a hydrogen bonding network mediated by water molecules, and the expulsion of a sodium ion from a protonatable binding site. However, how these components interplay to engage the signal effector binding site remains elusive. Here, we applied information theory to molecular dynamics simulations of pharmaceutically important GPCRs to trace concerted conformational variations across the receptors. We discovered a conserved communication pathway that includes protein residues and cofactors and enables the exchange of information between the extracellular sodium binding site and the intracellular G-protein binding region, coupling the most highly conserved protonatable residues at long distance. Reorientation of internal water molecules was found to be essential for signal transmission along this pathway. By inhibiting protonation, sodium decoupled this connectivity, identifying the ion as a master switch that determines the receptors ability to move towards active conformations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021


  • biophysics


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