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Minghang Zhang

Advisor: Dale Hereld, MD, Ph.D.

Dictyostelium, a soil amoeba, is able to develop from single free-living cells to multicellular fruiting bodies upon starvation using extracellular cAMP to mediate cell-cell communication, chemotaxis, and developmental gene expression. The seven transmembrane G protein-coupled cAMP receptor-1 (cAR1) mediated responses, such as the activation of adenylyl cyclase and guanylyl cyclase, are transient due to the existence of poorly understood adaptation mechanisms. For this dissertation, the powerful genetics of the Dictyostelium system was employed to study the adaptation mechanism of cAR1-mediated cAMP signaling as well as mechanisms intrinsic to cAR1 that regulate its activation. We proposed that constitutively active cAR1 would constantly send out the adaptation signal, thus inhibiting downstream pathways that are essential for aggregation and development. Therefore, a screen for dominant negative cAR1 mutants was undertaken to identify constitutively active receptor mutants. Three dominant negative cAR1 mutants were identified. All appear to be constitutively active receptor mutants because they are constitutively phosphorylated and possess high affinity for cAMP. Biochemical studies showed that these mutant receptors prevented the activation of downstream effectors, including adenylyl and guanylyl cyclases. In addition, these cells also were defective in cAMP chemotaxis and cAR1-mediated gene expression. These findings suggest that the mutant receptors block development by constantly activating multiple adaptation pathways. Sequence analysis revealed that these mutations (I104N, L100H) are clustered in a conserved region of the third transmembrane helix (TM3) of cAR1. To investigate the role of this region in receptor activation, one of these residues, I104, was mutated to all the other 19 possible amino acids. We found that all but the most conservative substitutions increase the receptor’s affinity about 20- to 70-fold. However, only highly polar substitutions of I104, particularly basic residues, resulted in receptors that are constitutively phosphorylated and dominantly inhibit development, suggesting that highly polar substitutions not only disrupt an interaction constraining the receptor in its low-affinity, inactive state but also promote an additional conformational change that resembles the ligand-bound conformation. Our findings suggest that I104 plays a specific role in constraining the receptor in its inactive state and the substituting it with highly polar residues results in constitutive activation.

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Research Info

Constitutively Active cAMP Receptor Mutants Dominantly Inhibit Receptor-Mediated Signaling Pathways in Dictyostelium discoideum