Crystal structures of the human cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) bound to the agonists AM11542 and AM841 reveal notable structural rearrangements upon receptor activation, and this flexibility may be a common feature among other G-protein-coupled receptors.
The cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) is the principal target of the psychoactive constituent of marijuana, the partial agonist Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC)1. Here we report two agonist-bound crystal structures of human CB1 in complex with a tetrahydrocannabinol (AM11542) and a hexahydrocannabinol (AM841) at 2.80 Å and 2.95 Å resolution, respectively. The two CB1-agonist complexes reveal important conformational changes in the overall structure, relative to the antagonist-bound state2, including a 53% reduction in the volume of the ligand-binding pocket and an increase in the surface area of the G-protein-binding region. In addition, a ‘twin toggle switch' of Phe2003.36 and Trp3566.48 (superscripts denote Ballesteros-Weinstein numbering3) is experimentally observed and appears to be essential for receptor activation. The structures reveal important insights into the activation mechanism of CB1 and provide a molecular basis for predicting the binding modes of Δ9-THC, and endogenous and synthetic cannabinoids. The plasticity of the binding pocket of CB1 seems to be a common feature among certain class A G-protein-coupled receptors. These findings should inspire the design of chemically diverse ligands with distinct pharmacological properties.