The role of water molecules in phototransduction of retinal proteins and G protein-coupled receptors
G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are a key family of membrane proteins in all eukaryotes and also very important drug targets for medical intervention. The extensively studied visual pigment rhodopsin is a prime example of a family A GPCR. Its chromophore ligand retinal is covalently linked to a lysine in helix seven forming a protonated Schiff base. Interestingly, this is the same situation in other-non-GPCR-retinal proteins, like the prototype light-driven microbial proton pump bacteriorhodopsin, albeit there is no (or only a very remote) phylogenetical link. Close to the retinal ligand, several water molecules help to organise a functionally important hydrogen bond network that undergoes significant changes during photo-activation. Such water-mediated networks are also critical for ligand binding of other GPCRs and they are becoming increasingly important in drug discovery. GPCRs also contain a partially conserved water mediated hydrogen bond network that stabilises the ground state of the receptor, and rearrangement of this network leads to the stabilization of the active state. Some water molecules have a specific role in this process to appropriately orient specific residues relative to the Schiff base, and to modulate the fine structure of the transmembrane bundle, particularly near the intracellular G protein binding site. While the atomic details of these mechanisms are still missing, the recent developments in free electron lasers (FELs) are enabling us to begin to observe the changes in waters and relevant side chains shortly after photo activation at an unprecedented level of spatial and temporal resolution.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Photoinduced Processes in Nucleic Acids and Proteins