Molecular dissection of the human A3 adenosine receptor coupling with β-arrestin2

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Graphical abstractBesides classical G protein coupling, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are nowadays well known to show significant signalling via other adaptor proteins, such as β-arrestin2 (βarr2). The elucidation of the molecular mechanism of the GPCR-βarr2 interaction is a prerequisite for the structure-activity based design of biased ligands, which introduces a new chapter in drug discovery. The general mechanism of the interaction is believed to rely on phosphorylation sites, exposed upon agonist binding. However, it is not known whether this mechanism is universal throughout the GPCR family or if GPCR-specific patterns are involved. In recent years, promising orally active agonists for the human A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR), a GPCR highly expressed in inflammatory and cancer cells, have been evaluated in clinical trials for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and hepatocellular carcinoma. In this study, the effect of cytoplasmic modifications of the A3AR on βarr2 recruitment was evaluated in transiently transfected HEK293T cells, using a live-cell split-reporter system (NanoBit®, Promega), based on the structural complementation of NanoLuc luciferase, allowing real-time βarr2 monitoring. The A3AR-selective reference agonist 2-Cl-IB-MECA yielded a robust, concentration dependent (5 nM–1 μM) recruitment of βarr2 (logEC50: −7.798 ± 0.076). The role of putative phosphorylation sites, located in the C-terminal part and cytoplasmic loops, and the role of the ‘DRY’ motif was evaluated. It was shown that the A3AR C-terminus was dispensable for βarr2 recruitment. This contrasts with studies in the past for the rat A3AR, which pointed at crucial C-terminal phosphorylation sites. When combining truncation of the A3AR with modification of the ‘DRY’ motif to ‘AAY’, the βarr2 recruitment was drastically reduced. Recruitment could be partly rescued by back-mutation to ‘NQY’, or by extending the C-terminus again. In conclusion, other parts of the human A3AR, either cytosolic or exposed upon receptor activation, rather than the C-terminus alone, are responsible for βarr2 recruitment in a complementary or synergistic way.

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