Phosphorylation/dephosphorylation of the beta-adrenergic receptor regulates its functional coupling to adenylate cyclase and subcellular distribution.

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Prolonged exposure of cells or tissues to drugs or hormones such as catecholamines leads to a state of refractoriness to further stimulation by that agent, known as homologous desensitization. In the case of the beta-adrenergic receptor coupled to adenylate cyclase, this process has been shown to be intimately associated with the sequestration of the receptors from the cell surface through a cAMP-independent process. Recently, we have shown that homologous desensitization in the frog erythrocyte model system is also associated with increased phosphorylation of the beta-adrenergic receptor. We now provide evidence that the phosphorylation state of the beta-adrenergic receptor regulates its functional coupling to adenylate cyclase, subcellular translocation, and recycling to the cell surface during the process of agonist-induced homologous desensitization. Moreover, we show that the receptor phosphorylation is reversed by a phosphatase specifically associated with the sequestered subcellular compartment. At 23 degrees C, the time courses of beta-adrenergic receptor phosphorylation, sequestration, and adenylate cyclase desensitization are identical, occurring without a lag, exhibiting a t1/2 of 30 min, and reaching a maximum at approximately 3 hr. Upon cell lysis, the sequestered beta-adrenergic receptors can be partially recovered in a light membrane vesicle fraction that is separable from the plasma membranes by differential centrifugation. The increased beta-adrenergic receptor phosphorylation is apparently reversed in the sequestered vesicle fraction as the sequestered receptors exhibit a phosphate/receptor stoichiometry that is similar to that observed under basal conditions. High levels of a beta-adrenergic receptor phosphatase activity appear to be associated with the sequestered vesicle membranes. The functional activity of the phosphorylated beta-adrenergic receptor was examined by reconstituting purified receptor with its biochemical effector the guanine nucleotide regulatory protein (Ns) in phospholipid vesicles and assessing the receptor-stimulated GTPase activity of Ns. Compared to controls, phosphorylated beta-adrenergic receptors, purified from desensitized cells, were less efficacious in activating the Ns GTPase activity. These results suggest that phosphorylation of the beta-adrenergic receptor leads to its functional uncoupling and physical translocation away from the cell surface into a sequestered membrane domain. In the sequestered compartment, the phosphorylation is reversed thus enabling the receptor to recycle back to the cell surface and recouple with adenylate cyclase.







Robert J. Lefkowitz

The Chancellor's Distinguished Professor of Medicine

Dr. Lefkowitz’s memoir, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm, recounts his early career as a cardiologist and his transition to biochemistry, which led to his Nobel Prize win.

Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D. is Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at the Duke University Medical Center. He has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1976. Dr. Lefkowitz began his research career in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when there was not a clear consensus that specific receptors for drugs and hormones even existed. His group spent 15 difficult years developing techniques for labeling the receptors with radioactive drugs and then purifying the four different receptors that were known and thought to exist for adrenaline, so called adrenergic receptors. In 1986 Dr. Lefkowitz transformed the understanding of what had by then become known as G protein coupled receptors because of the way the receptor signal for the inside of a cell through G proteins, when he and his colleagues cloned the gene for the beta2-adrenergic receptor. They immediately recognized the similarity to a molecule called rhodopsin which is essentially a light receptor in the retina. This unexpected finding established the beta receptor and rhodopsin as the first member of a new family of proteins. Because each has a peptide structure, which weaves across the cell membrane seven times, these receptors are referred to as seven transmembrane receptors. This super family is now known to be the largest, most diverse and most therapeutically accessible of all the different kinds of cellular receptors. There are almost a thousand members of this receptor family and they regulate virtually all known physiological processes in humans. They include the receptors not only to numerous hormones and neurotransmitters but for the receptors which mediate the senses of sweet and bitter taste and smell amongst many others. Dr. Lefkowitz also discovered the mechanism by which receptor signaling is turned off, a process known as desensitization. Dr. Lefkowitz work was performed at the most fundamental and basic end of the research spectrum and has had remarkable consequences for clinical medicine. Today, more than half of all prescription drug sales are of drugs that target either directly or indirectly the receptors discovered by Dr. Lefkowitz and his trainees. These include amongst many others beta blockers, angiotensin receptor blockers or ARBs and antihistamines. Over the past decade he has discovered novel mechanisms by which the receptors function which may lead to the development of an entirely new class of drugs called “biased agonists”. Several such compounds are already in advanced stages of clinical testing. Dr. Lefkowitz has received numerous honors and awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Shaw Prize, the Albany Prize, and the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was elected to the USA National Academy of Sciences in 1988, the Institute of Medicine in 1994, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988.

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