The carboxyamidated wFwLL peptide was used as a core ligand to probe the structural basis for agonism versus inverse agonism in the constitutively active ghrelin receptor. In the ligand, an efficacy switch could be built at the N terminus, as exemplified by AwFwLL, which functioned as a high potency agonist, whereas KwFwLL was an equally high potency inverse agonist. The wFw-containing peptides, agonists as well as inverse agonists, were affected by receptor mutations covering the whole main ligand-binding pocket with key interaction sites being an aromatic cluster in transmembrane (TM)-VI and -VII and residues on the opposing face of TM-III. Gain-of-function in respect of either increased agonist or inverse agonist potency or swap between high potency versions of these properties was obtained by substitutions at a number of positions covering a broad area of the binding pocket on TM-III, -IV, and -V. However, in particular, space-generating substitutions at position III:04 shifted the efficacy of the ligands from inverse agonism toward agonism, whereas similar substitutions at position III: 08, one helical turn below, shifted the efficacy from agonism toward inverse agonism. It is suggested that the relative position of the ligand in the binding pocket between this "efficacy shift region" on TM-III and the opposing aromatic cluster on TM-VI and TM-VII leads either to agonism, i.e. in a superficial binding mode, or it leads to inverse agonism, i.e. in a more profound binding mode. This relationship between different binding modes and opposite efficacy is in accordance with the Global Toggle Switch model for 7TM receptor activation.
Keywords: Amino Acid Substitution; Animals; Binding Sites; COS Cells; Cercopithecus aethiops; Humans; Ligands; Models, Molecular; Mutation, Missense; Peptides; Protein Binding; Protein Structure, Secondary; Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled; Receptors, Ghrelin; Structure-Activity Relationship