Mechanisms for ligand binding to GluR0 ion channels: Crystal structures of the glutamate and serine complexes and a closed apo state

Mark L. Mayer, Rich Olson, Eric Gouaux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


High-resolution structures of the ligand binding core of GluR0, a glutamate receptor ion channel from Synechocystis PCC 6803, have been solved by X-ray diffraction. The GluR0 structures reveal homology with bacterial periplasmic binding proteins and the rat GluR2 AMPA subtype neurotransmitter receptor. The ligand binding site is formed by a cleft between two globular α/β domains. L-Glutamate binds in an extended conformation, similar to that observed for glutamine binding protein (GlnBP). However, the L-glutamate γ-carboxyl group interacts exclusively with Asn51 in domain 1, different from the interactions of ligand with domain 2 residues observed for GluR2 and GlnBP. To address how neutral amino acids activate GluR0 gating we solved the structure of the binding site complex with L-serine. This revealed solvent molecules acting as surrogate ligand atoms, such that the serine OH group makes solvent-mediated hydrogen bonds with Asn51. The structure of a ligand-free, closed-cleft conformation revealed an extensive hydrogen bond network mediated by solvent molecules. Equilibrium centrifugation analysis revealed dimerization of the GluR0 ligand binding core with a dissociation constant of 0.8 μM. In the crystal, a symmetrical dimer involving residues in domain 1 occurs along a crystallographic 2-fold axis and suggests that tetrameric glutamate receptor ion channels are assembled from dimers of dimers. We propose that ligand-induced conformational changes cause the ion channel to open as a result of an increase in domain 2 separation relative to the dimer interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)815-836
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of molecular biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 24 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Equilibrium centrifugation
  • Glutamate receptors
  • Ion channels
  • Ligand binding
  • X-ray crystallography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Structural Biology
  • Molecular Biology


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