Characterization of ligand binding to melanocortin 4 receptors using fluorescent peptides with improved kinetic properties

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Melanocortin 4 (MC4) receptors are important drug targets as they regulate energy homeostasis, eating behaviour and sexual functions. The ligand binding process to these G protein-coupled receptors is subject to considerable complexity. Different steps in the complex dynamic regulation can be characterized by ligand binding kinetics. Optimization of these kinetic parameters in terms of on-rate and residence time can increase the rapid onset of drug action and reduce off-target effects. Fluorescence anisotropy (FA) is one of the homogeneous fluorescence-based assays that enable continuous online monitoring of ligand binding kinetics. FA has been implemented for the kinetic study of melanocortin MC4 receptors expressed on budded baculoviruses. However, the slow dissociation of the fluorescently labelled peptide NDP-α-MSH does not enable reaching equilibrium nor enable more in-depth study of the binding mechanisms. To overcome this problem, two novel red-shifted fluorescent ligands were designed. These cyclized heptapeptide derivatives (UTBC101 and UTBC102) exhibited nanomolar affinity toward melanocortin MC4 receptors but had relatively different kinetic properties. The dissociation half-lives of UTBC101 (τ1/2=160 min) and UTBC102 (τ1/2=7 min) were shorter compared to that what was previously reported for Cy3B-NDP-α-MSH (τ1/2=224 min). The significantly shorter dissociation half-life of UTBC102 enables equilibrium in screening assays, whereas the higher affinity of UTBC101 helps to resolve a wider range of competitor potencies. These two ligands are suitable for further kinetic screening of novel melanocortin MC4 receptor specific ligands and could complement each other in these studies.

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