Get access

Computationally-predicted CB1 cannabinoid receptor mutants show distinct patterns of salt-bridges that correlate with their level of constitutive activity reflected in G protein coupling levels, thermal stability, and ligand binding


Correspondence to: Debra A. Kendall, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 69 N. Eagleville Road, Storrs, CT 06269-3092. E-mail:


The cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), a member of the class A G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) family, possesses an observable level of constitutive activity. Its activation mechanism, however, has yet to be elucidated. Previously we discovered dramatic changes in CB1 activity due to single mutations; T3.46A, which made the receptor inactive, and T3.46I and L3.43A, which made it essentially fully constitutively active. Our subsequent prediction of the structures of these mutant receptors indicated that these changes in activity are explained in terms of the pattern of salt-bridges in the receptor region involving transmembrane domains 2, 3, 5, and 6. Here we identified key salt-bridges, R2.37 + D6.30 and D2.63 + K3.28, critical for CB1 inactive and active states, respectively, and generated new mutant receptors that we predicted would change CB1 activity by either precluding or promoting these interactions. We find that breaking the R2.37 + D6.30 salt-bridge resulted in substantial increase in G-protein coupling activity and reduced thermal stability relative to the wild-type reflecting the changes in constitutive activity from inactive to active. In contrast, breaking the D2.63 + K3.28 salt-bridge produced the opposite profile suggesting this interaction is critical for the receptor activation. Thus, we demonstrate an excellent correlation with the predicted pattern of key salt-bridges and experimental levels of activity and conformational flexibility. These results are also consistent with the extended ternary complex model with respect to shifts in agonist and inverse agonist affinity and provide a powerful framework for understanding the molecular basis for the multiple stages of CB1 activation and that of other GPCRs in general. Proteins 2013; 81:1304–1317. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.