Tandem Couture: Cys-Loop Receptor Concatamer Insights and Caveats

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Abstract

Receptor subunits in the Cys-loop superfamily assemble to form channels as homopentamers or heteropentamers, expanding functional diversity through modularity. Expression of two or more compatible subunit types can lead to various receptor assemblies or subtypes. However, what may be good for diversity in vivo may be undesirable for the bench scientist, because we often wish to reduce our analyses to a single receptor subtype. By linking two or more subunits, creating tandems or concatamers, we can control stoichiometry and limit expression to exactly one receptor subtype. In this fashion, receptors with mixed subunit subtypes and heterozygous mutations can be separated from a mixture and can be described in detail. However, several recent studies have shown that this may be more easily conceived than accomplished, because several unforeseen problems have arisen. Concatamers can degrade, linkers can sometimes be clipped after or during translation, and one subunit may “loop out” or even become part of a second (now linked) pentamer with different characteristics. Some strategies have been developed to overcome these drawbacks, and the resultant new information that has begun to emerge has revitalized the study of these receptors in heterologous expression systems.

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