Drug binding poses relate structure with efficacy in the μ opioid receptor

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The μ-opioid receptor (MOPr) is a clinically important G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) which couples to Gi/o proteins and arrestins. At present the receptor conformational changes that occur following agonist binding and activation are poorly understood. This study has employed molecular dynamics simulations to investigate the binding mode and receptor conformational changes induced by structurally similar opioid ligands of widely differing intrinsic agonist efficacy, norbuprenorphine, buprenorphine and diprenorphine. Bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) assays for Gi activation and arrestin-3 recruitment in HEK 293 cells confirmed that norbuprenorphine is a high efficacy agonist, buprenorphine a low efficacy agonist, and diprenorphine an antagonist at the MOPr. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed that these ligands adopt distinct binding poses and engage different subsets of residues, despite sharing a common morphinan scaffold. Notably, norbuprenorphine interacted with sodium ion - coordinating residues W293(6.48) and N150(3.35), whilst buprenorphine and diprenorphine did not. Principal component analysis of the movements of the receptor transmembrane domains showed that the buprenorphine-bound receptor occupied a distinct set of conformations to the norbuprenorphine-bound receptor. Addition of an allosteric sodium ion caused the receptor and ligand to adopt an inactive conformation. The differences in ligand-residue interactions and receptor conformations observed here may underlie the differing efficacies for cellular signalling outputs for these ligands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1840-1851
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Molecular Biology
Issue number12
Early online date11 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2017

Structured keywords

  • BcompB


  • G protein-coupled receptor
  • μ-opioid receptor
  • molecular dynamics
  • buprenorphine


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  • HPC (High Performance Computing) Facility

    Susan L Pywell (Manager), Simon A Burbidge (Other), Polly E Eccleston (Other) & Simon H Atack (Other)

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