Doctor of Philosophy, Tsinghua University (2013)
Bachelor of Science, Sichuan University (2008)
Brian Kobilka, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Activation of the μ-opioid receptor (μOR) is responsible for the efficacy of the most effective analgesics. To shed light on the structural basis for μOR activation, here we report a 2.1 Å X-ray crystal structure of the murine μOR bound to the morphinan agonist BU72 and a G protein mimetic camelid antibody fragment. The BU72-stabilized changes in the μOR binding pocket are subtle and differ from those observed for agonist-bound structures of the β2-adrenergic receptor (β2AR) and the M2 muscarinic receptor. Comparison with active β2AR reveals a common rearrangement in the packing of three conserved amino acids in the core of the μOR, and molecular dynamics simulations illustrate how the ligand-binding pocket is conformationally linked to this conserved triad. Additionally, an extensive polar network between the ligand-binding pocket and the cytoplasmic domains appears to play a similar role in signal propagation for all three G-protein-coupled receptors.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nature14886
View details for PubMedID 26245379
µ-Opioid receptors (µORs) are G-protein-coupled receptors that are activated by a structurally diverse spectrum of natural and synthetic agonists including endogenous endorphin peptides, morphine and methadone. The recent structures of the μOR in inactive and agonist-induced active states (Huang et al., ref. 2) provide snapshots of the receptor at the beginning and end of a signalling event, but little is known about the dynamic sequence of events that span these two states. Here we use solution-state NMR to examine the process of μOR activation using a purified receptor (mouse sequence) preparation in an amphiphile membrane-like environment. We obtain spectra of the μOR in the absence of ligand, and in the presence of the high-affinity agonist BU72 alone, or with BU72 and a G protein mimetic nanobody. Our results show that conformational changes in transmembrane segments 5 and 6 (TM5 and TM6), which are required for the full engagement of a G protein, are almost completely dependent on the presence of both the agonist and the G protein mimetic nanobody, revealing a weak allosteric coupling between the agonist-binding pocket and the G-protein-coupling interface (TM5 and TM6), similar to that observed for the β2-adrenergic receptor. Unexpectedly, in the presence of agonist alone, we find larger spectral changes involving intracellular loop 1 and helix 8 compared to changes in TM5 and TM6. These results suggest that one or both of these domains may play a role in the initial interaction with the G protein, and that TM5 and TM6 are only engaged later in the process of complex formation. The initial interactions between the G protein and intracellular loop 1 and/or helix 8 may be involved in G-protein coupling specificity, as has been suggested for other family A G-protein-coupled receptors.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nature14680
View details for PubMedID 26245377
Programmed cell death in Caenorhabditis elegans requires activation of the caspase CED-3, which strictly depends on CED-4. CED-4 forms an octameric apoptosome, which binds the CED-3 zymogen and facilitates its autocatalytic maturation. Despite recent advances, major questions remain unanswered. Importantly, how CED-4 recognizes CED-3 and how such binding facilitates CED-3 activation remain completely unknown. Here we demonstrate that the L2' loop of CED-3 directly binds CED-4 and plays a major role in the formation of an active CED-4-CED-3 holoenzyme. The crystal structure of the CED-4 apoptosome bound to the L2' loop fragment of CED-3, determined at 3.2 Å resolution, reveals specific interactions between a stretch of five hydrophobic amino acids from CED-3 and a shallow surface pocket within the hutch of the funnel-shaped CED-4 apoptosome. Structure-guided biochemical analysis confirms the functional importance of the observed CED-4-CED-3 interface. Structural analysis together with published evidence strongly suggest a working model in which two molecules of CED-3 zymogen, through specific recognition, are forced into the hutch of the CED-4 apoptosome, consequently undergoing dimerization and autocatalytic maturation. The mechanism of CED-3 activation represents a major revision of the prevailing model for initiator caspase activation.
View details for DOI 10.1101/gad.224428.113
View details for Web of Science ID 000324872100008
View details for PubMedID 24065769
The Beclin 1 gene is a haplo-insufficient tumor suppressor and plays an essential role in autophagy. However, the molecular mechanism by which Beclin 1 functions remains largely unknown. Here we report the crystal structure of the evolutionarily conserved domain (ECD) of Beclin 1 at 1.6 Å resolution. Beclin 1 ECD exhibits a previously unreported fold, with three structural repeats arranged symmetrically around a central axis. Beclin 1 ECD defines a novel class of membrane-binding domain, with a strong preference for lipid membrane enriched with cardiolipin. The tip of a surface loop in Beclin 1 ECD, comprising three aromatic amino acids, acts as a hydrophobic finger to associate with lipid membrane, consequently resulting in the deformation of membrane and liposomes. Mutation of these aromatic residues rendered Beclin 1 unable to stably associate with lipid membrane in vitro and unable to fully rescue autophagy in Beclin 1-knockdown cells in vivo. These observations form an important framework for deciphering the biological functions of Beclin 1.
View details for DOI 10.1038/cr.2012.24
View details for Web of Science ID 000300942400006
View details for PubMedID 22310240
FocA is a representative member of the formate-nitrite transporter family, which transports short-chain acids in bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae and parasites. The structure and transport mechanism of the formate-nitrite transporter family remain unknown. Here we report the crystal structure of Escherichia coli FocA at 2.25 A resolution. FocA forms a symmetric pentamer, with each protomer consisting of six transmembrane segments. Despite a lack of sequence homology, the overall structure of the FocA protomer closely resembles that of aquaporin and strongly argues that FocA is a channel, rather than a transporter. Structural analysis identifies potentially important channel residues, defines the channel path and reveals two constriction sites. Unlike aquaporin, FocA is impermeable to water but allows the passage of formate. A structural and biochemical investigation provides mechanistic insights into the channel activity of FocA.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nature08610
View details for Web of Science ID 000272144200035
View details for PubMedID 19940917