Previously we demonstrated by random saturation mutagenesis a set of mutations in the extracellular (EC) loops that constitutively activate the C5a receptor (C5aR) (Klco et al., Nat Struct Mol Biol 2005;12:320–326; Klco et al., J Biol Chem 2006;281:12010–12019). In this study, molecular modeling revealed possible conformations for the extracellular loops of the C5a receptors with mutations in the EC2 loop or in the EC3 loop. Comparison of low-energy conformations of the EC loops defined two distinct clusters of conformations typical either for strongly constitutively active mutants of C5aR (the CAM cluster) or for nonconstitutively active mutants (the non-CAM cluster). In the CAM cluster, the EC3 loop was turned towards the transmembrane (TM) helical bundle and more closely interacted with EC2 than in the non-CAM cluster. This suggested a structural mechanism of constitutive activity where EC3 contacts EC2 leading to EC2 interactions with helix TM3, thus triggering movement of TM7 towards TM2 and TM3. The movement initiates rearrangement of the system of hydrogen bonds between TM2, TM3 and TM7 including formation of the hydrogen bond between the side chains of D822.50 in TM2 and N2967.49 in TM7, which is crucial for formation of the activated states of the C5a receptors (Nikiforovich et al., Proteins: Struct Funct Gene 2011;79:787–802). Since the relative large length of EC3 in C5aR (13 residues) is comparable with those in many other members of rhodopsin family of GPCRs (13–19 residues), our findings might reflect general mechanisms of receptor constitutive activation. The very recent X-ray structure of the agonist-induced constitutively active mutant of rhodopsin (Standfuss et al., Nature 2011;471:656–660) is discussed in view of our modeling results. Proteins 2012; © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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