Toward an understanding of the structural basis of allostery in muscarinic acetylcholine receptors

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Recent breakthroughs and developments in structural biology have led to a spate of crystal structures for G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). This is the case for the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) where inactive-state structures for four of the five subtypes and two active-state structures for one subtype are available. These mAChR crystal structures have provided new insights into receptor mechanisms, dynamics, and allosteric modulation. This is highly relevant to the mAChRs given that these receptors are an exemplar model system for the study of GPCR allostery. Allosteric mechanisms of the mAChRs are predominantly consistent with a two-state model, albeit with some notable recent exceptions. Herein, we discuss the mechanisms for positive and negative allosteric modulation at the mAChRs and compare and contrast these to evidence offered by pharmacological, biochemical, and computational approaches. This analysis provides insight into the fundamental pharmacological properties exhibited by GPCR allosteric modulators, such as enhanced subtype selectivity, probe dependence, and biased modulation while highlighting the current challenges that remain. Though complex, enhanced molecular understanding of allosteric mechanisms will have considerable influence on our understanding of GPCR activation and signaling and development of therapeutic interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1360-1372
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of General Physiology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018

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