Molecular models for the interaction of substance P (SP) with its G protein-coupled receptor, the neurokinin-1 receptor (NK-1R), have been developed. The ligand-receptor complex is based on experimental data from a series of photoaffinity labeling experiments and spectroscopic structural studies of extracellular domains of the NK-1R. Using the ligand/receptor contact points derived from incorporation of photolabile probes (p-benzoylphenylalanine (Bpa)) into SP at positions 3,4, and 8 and molecular dynamics simulations, the topological arrangement of SP within the NK-1R is explored. The model incorporates the structural features, determined by high resolution NMR studies, of the second extracellular loop (EC2), containing contact points Met174 and Met181, providing important experimentally based conformational preferences for the simulations. Extensive molecular dynamics simulations were carried out to probe the nature of the two contact points identified for the Bpa3SP analogue (Bremer, A. A., Leeman, S. E., and Boyd, N. D. (2001) J. Biol. Chem. 276, 22857-22861), examining modes of ligand binding in which the contact points are fulfilled sequentially or simultaneously. The resulting ligand-receptor complex has the N terminus of SP projecting toward transmembrane helix (TM) 1 and TM2, exposed to the solvent. The C terminus of SP is located in proximity to TM5 and TM6, deeper into the central core of the receptor. The central portion of the ligand, adopting a helical loop conformation, is found to align with the helices of the central regions EC2 and EC3, forming important interactions with both of these extracellular domains. The model developed here allows for atomic insight into the biochemical data currently available and guides targeting of future experiments to probe specific ligand/receptor interactions and thereby furthers our understanding of the functioning of this important neuropeptide system.
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