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Allosteric Effect of Nanobody Binding on Ligand-Specific Active States of the β2 Adrenergic Receptor

Nanobody binding stabilizes G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) in a fully active state and modulates their affinity for bound ligands. However, the atomic-level basis for this allosteric regulation remains elusive. Here, we investigate the conformational changes induced by the binding of a nanobody (Nb80) on the active-like β2 adrenergic receptor (β2AR) via enhanced sampling molecular dynamics simulations. Dimensionality reduction analysis shows that Nb80 stabilizes structural features of the β2AR with an ∼14 Å outward movement of transmembrane helix 6 and a close proximity of transmembrane (TM) helices 5 and 7, and favors the fully active-like conformation of the receptor, independent of ligand binding, in contrast to the conditions under which no intracellular binding partner is bound, in which case the receptor is only stabilized in an intermediate-active state. This activation is supported by the residues located at hotspots located on TMs 5, 6, and 7, as shown by supervised machine learning methods. Besides, ligand-specific subtle differences in the conformations assumed by intracellular loop 2 and extracellular loop 2 are captured from the trajectories of various ligand-bound receptors in the presence of Nb80. Dynamic network analysis further reveals that Nb80 binding triggers tighter and stronger local communication networks between the Nb80 and the ligand-binding sites, primarily involving residues around ICL2 and the intracellular end of TM3, TM5, TM6, as well as ECL2, ECL3, and the extracellular ends of TM6 and TM7. In particular, we identify unique allosteric signal transmission mechanisms between the Nb80-binding site and the extracellular domains in conformations modulated by a full agonist, BI167107, and a G-protein-biased partial agonist, salmeterol, involving mainly TM1 and TM2, and TM5, respectively. Altogether, our results provide insights into the effect of intracellular binding partners on the GPCR activation mechanism, which should be taken into account in structure-based drug discovery.

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