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Papers of the Week

Papers: 24 Apr 2021 - 30 Apr 2021

Pharmacology/Drug Development

2021 Apr 23

J Biol Chem

A conserved residue in the P2X4 receptor has a non-conserved function in ATP recognition.


Chen P-F, Ma X-F, Sun L-F, Tian Y, Fan Y-Z, Li P, Xiao Z, Zhu MX, Guo C-R, Li C, Yu Y, Wang J
J Biol Chem. 2021 Apr 23:100655.
PMID: 33901491.


Highly conserved amino acids are generally anticipated to have similar functions across a protein superfamily, including that of the P2X ion channels, which are gated by extracellular ATP. However, whether and how these functions are conserved becomes less clear when neighboring amino acids are not conserved. Here, we investigate one such case, focused on the highly conserved residue from P2X4, E118 (rat P2X4 numbering, rP2X4), a P2X subtype associated with human neuropathic pain. When we compared the crystal structures of P2X4 with those of other P2X subtypes, including P2X3, P2X7 and AmP2X, we observed a slightly altered side-chain orientation of E118. We used protein chimeras, double mutant cycle analysis and molecular modeling to reveal that E118 forms specific contacts with amino acids in the "beak" region, which facilitates ATP binding to rP2X4. These contacts are not present in other subtypes due to sequence variance in the beak region, resulting in decoupling of this conserved residue from ATP recognition and/or channel gating of P2X receptors. Our study provides an example of a conserved residue with a specific role in functional proteins enabled by adjacent non-conserved residues. The unique role established by the E118-beak region contact provides a blueprint for the development of subtype-specific inhibitors of P2X4.