Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Crystal clear images uncover secrets of hormone receptors


NIH researchers gain better understanding of how neuropeptide hormones trigger chemical reactions in cells

Many hormones and neurotransmitters work by binding to receptors on a cell's exterior surface. This activates receptors causing them to twist, turn and spark chemical reactions inside cells. NIH scientists used atomic level images to show how the neuropeptide hormone neurotensin might activate its receptors. Their description is the first of its kind for a neuropeptide-binding G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), a class of receptors involved in a wide range of disorders and the target of many drugs.

NIH scientists described for the first time how a neuropeptide hormone may activate a G protein-coupled receptor.

Courtesy of Grisshammer lab, NINDS, Bethesda, Md.

"G protein-coupled receptors are found throughout the body. Knowing how they work should help scientists devise better treatments," said Reinhard Grisshammer, Ph.D., an investigator at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the senior author of the study published in Nature Communications.

Neurotensin is thought to be involved in Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, temperature regulation, pain, and cancer cell growth. Previously, Dr. Grisshammer and his colleagues showed how neurotensin binds to the part of its receptor located on a cell's surface. In this study, they demonstrated how binding changes the structure of the rest of the receptor, which passes through a cell's membrane and into its interior. There neurotensin receptors activate G proteins, a group of molecules inside cells that controls a series of chemical chain reactions.

For these experiments, scientists shot X-rays at crystallized neurotensin receptor molecules. Making crystals of receptors that activate G proteins is difficult. In most studies, scientists have investigated inactive receptors.

"The receptor we crystallized is very close to the active form found in nature," said Dr. Grisshammer. "We may have the first picture of a peptide-binding G protein-coupled receptor just before it engages with the G protein."

To achieve their results, the scientists made multiple genetic modifications to a less active version of the neurotensin receptor they had used before. Experiments performed in test tubes showed that mixing the receptor with neurotensin sparked the G protein reactions for which the scientists were looking.

When the scientists looked at the structure of the new crystals, they discovered how binding of neurotensin to the receptor caused critical parts of the receptor located below a cell's surface to change shape. In particular, they saw that a region in the middle of the receptor dropped like a draw bridge to link the neurotensin binding site to parts of the receptor found inside cells that are important for G protein activation. The scientists concluded that this change may prepare the receptor for activating G proteins.

"For years scientists have made educated guesses about how peptide receptors work. Now we may finally know," said Dr. Grisshammer.

His lab plans to continue its work in order to fully understand how neurotensin and other G protein-coupled receptors translate messages delivered by neuropeptides into reactions inside cells.


This work was funded by the NINDS Division of Intramural Research.

References: Krumm et al. "Structural prerequisites for G-protein activation by the neurotensin receptor," Nature Communications, July 24, 2015. DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS8895

For more information, please visit:

The NINDS is the nation's leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Media Contact

Christopher G. Thomas


Christopher G. Thomas | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>