Molecular modeling of conformational changes occurring in the transmembrane region of the complement factor 5a receptor (C5aR) during receptor activation was performed by comparing two constitutively active mutants (CAMs) of C5aR, NQ (I124N/L127Q), and F251A, to those of the wild-type C5aR and NQ-N296A (I124N/L127Q/N296A), which have the wild-type phenotype. Modeling involved comprehensive sampling of various rotations of TM helices aligned to the crystal template of the dark-adapted rhodopsin along their long axes. By assuming that the relative energies of the spontaneously activated states of CAMs should be lower or at least comparable to energies characteristic for the ground states, we selected the plausible models for the conformational states associated with constitutive activation in C5aR. The modeling revealed that the hydrogen bonds between the side chains of D82–N119, S85–N119, and S131–C221 characteristic for the ground state were replaced by the hydrogen bonds D82-N296, N296-Y300, and S131-R134, respectively, in the activated states. Also, conformational transitions that occurred upon activation were hindered by contacts between the side chains of L127 and F251. The results rationalize the available data of mutagenesis in C5aR and offer the first specific molecular mechanism for the loss of constitutive activity in NQ-N296A. Our results also contributed to understanding the general structural mechanisms of activation in G-protein-coupled receptors lacking the “ionic lock”, R3.50 and E/D6.30. Importantly, these results were obtained by modeling approaches that deliberately simplify many elements in order to explore potential conformations of GPCRs involving large-scale molecular movements. Proteins 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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