• CRF receptor;
  • G-protein coupling;
  • receptor binding;
  • cAMP;
  • functional selectivity;
  • signalling domain;
  • signalling-selective ligands

Background and purpose:

Most of the pharmaceuticals target G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) which can generally activate different signalling events. The aim of this study was to achieve functional selectivity of corticotropin-releasing factor receptor type 1 (CRF1) ligands.

Experimental approach:

We systematically substituted urocortin, a natural peptide agonist of CRF1, with bulky amino acids (benzoyl-phenylalanine, naphthylalanine) and determined the effect of the analogues on coupling of CRF1 to Gs- and Gi-protein in human embryonic kidney cells, using receptor binding, [35S]-GTPγS binding stimulation, and cAMP accumulation assays.

Key results:

Native ligands stimulated Gs and Gi activation through CRF1, resulting in stimulation and then inhibition of cAMP accumulation. Single replacements in urocortin at positions 6–15 led, dependent on the position and nature of the substituent, to ligands that conserved Gs activity, but were devoid of Gi activity, only stimulating cAMP accumulation, and competitively antagonized the Gi activation by sauvagine. In contrast, analogues with substitutions outside this sequence non-selectively activated Gs and Gi, as urocortin did.

Conclusions and implications:

Modifications in a specific region, which we have called the signalling domain, in the polypeptide agonist urocortin resulted in analogues that behaved as agonists and, at the same time, antagonists for the activation of different G-proteins by CRF1. This finding implies significant differences between active conformations of the receptor when coupled to different G-proteins. A similar structural encoding of signalling information in other polypeptide hormone receptor ligands would result in a general concept for the development of signalling-selective drug candidates.

British Journal of Pharmacology (2007) 151, 851–859; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0707293