Serotonin 2A receptor disulfide bridge integrity is crucial for ligand binding to different signalling states but not for its homodimerization
The serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptor is a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) with a conserved disulfide bridge formed by Cys148 (transmembrane helix 3, TM3) and Cys227 (extracellular loop 2, ECL-2). We hypothesized that disulfide bridges may determine serotonin 5-HT2A receptor functions such as receptor activation, functional selectivity and ligand recognition. We used the reducing agent dithiothreitol (DTT) to determine how the reduction of disulfide bridges affects radioligand binding, second messenger mobilization and receptor dimerization. A DTT-induced decrease in the number of binding sites (1190 ± 63.55 fmol/mg protein for control cells compared with 921.2 ± 60.84 fmol/mg protein for DTT-treated cells) as well as in the efficacy of both signalling pathways characterized was observed, although the affinity and potency were unchanged. Bioluminiscence resonance energy transfer (BRET) assays revealed the DTT treatment did not modify the homodimeric nature of serotonin 5-HT2A receptors. In molecular dynamic simulations, the ECL-2 of the receptor with a broken cysteine bond adopts a wider variety of conformations, some of which protrude deeper into the receptor orthosteric binding pocket leading to collapse of the pocket. A shrunken binding pocket would be incapable of accommodating lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Our findings suggest that the decrease of efficacy may be due to disruption of disulfide bridge between TM3 and ECL-2. This reveals the integrity of the ECL-2 epitope, which should be explored in the development of novel ligands acting as allosteric modulators of serotonin 5-HT2A receptors.