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Distinct Activation Mechanisms of CXCR4 and ACKR3 Revealed by Single-Molecule Analysis of their Conformational Landscapes

Published date

June 20, 2024


"The canonical chemokine receptor CXCR4 and atypical receptor ACKR3 both respond to CXCL12 but induce different effector responses to regulate cell migration. While CXCR4 couples to G proteins and directly promotes cell migration, ACKR3 is G protein-independent and scavenges CXCL12 to regulate extracellular chemokine levels and maintain CXCR4 responsiveness, thereby indirectly influencing migration. The receptors also have distinct activation requirements. CXCR4 only responds to wild-type CXCL12 and is sensitive to mutation of the chemokine. By contrast, ACKR3 recruits GPCR kinases (GRKs) and β-arrestins and promiscuously responds to CXCL12, CXCL12 variants, other peptides and proteins, and is relatively insensitive to mutation. To investigate the role of conformational dynamics in the distinct pharmacological behaviors of CXCR4 and ACKR3, we employed single-molecule FRET to track discrete conformational states of the receptors in real-time. The data revealed that apo-CXCR4 preferentially populates a high-FRET inactive state, while apo-ACKR3 shows little conformational preference and high transition probabilities among multiple inactive, intermediate and active conformations, consistent with its propensity for activation. Multiple active-like ACKR3 conformations are populated in response to agonists, compared to the single CXCR4 active-state. This and the markedly different conformational landscapes of the receptors suggest that activation of ACKR3 may be achieved by a broader distribution of conformational states than CXCR4. Much of the conformational heterogeneity of ACKR3 is linked to a single residue that differs between ACKR3 and CXCR4. The dynamic properties of ACKR3 may underly its inability to form productive interactions with G proteins that would drive canonical GPCR signaling."


Christopher T Schafer, Raymond F Pauszek 3rd, Martin Gustavsson, Tracy M Handel, David P Millar 


ACKR3, Chemokine receptor, GPCR, conformational dynamics, single-molecule FRET 

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