Structural biology of glycoprotein hormones and their receptors: Insights to signaling

Xuliang Jiang*, James A. Dias, Xiaolin He

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


This article reviews the progress made in the field of glycoprotein hormones (GPH) and their receptors (GPHR) by several groups of structural biologists including ourselves aiming to gain insight into GPH signaling mechanisms. The GPH family consists of four members, with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) being the prototypic member. GPH members belong to the cystine-knot growth factor superfamily, and their receptors (GPHR), possessing unusually large N-terminal ectodomains, belong to the G-protein coupled receptor Family A. GPHR ectodomains can be divided into two subdomains: a high-affinity hormone binding subdomain primarily centered on the N-terminus, and a second subdomain that is located on the C-terminal region of the ectodomain that is involved in signal specificity. The two subdomains unexpectedly form an integral structure comprised of leucine-rich repeats (LRRs). Following the structure determination of hCG in 1994, the field of FSH structural biology has progressively advanced. Initially, the FSH structure was determined in partially glycosylated free form in 2001, followed by a structure of FSH bound to a truncated FSHR ectodomain in 2005, and the structure of FSH bound to the entire ectodomain in 2012. Comparisons of the structures in three forms led a proposal of a two-step monomeric receptor activation mechanism. First, binding of FSH to the FSHR high-affinity hormone-binding subdomain induces a conformational change in the hormone to form a binding pocket that is specific for a sulfated-tyrosine found as sTyr 335 in FSHR. Subsequently, the sTyr is drawn into the newly formed binding pocket, producing a lever effect on a helical pivot whereby the docking sTyr provides as the 'pull & lift' force. The pivot helix is flanked by rigid LRRs and locked by two disulfide bonds on both sides: the hormone-binding subdomain on one side and the last short loop before the first transmembrane helix on the other side. The lift of the sTyr loop frees the tethered extracellular loops of the 7TM domain, thereby releasing a putative inhibitory influence of the ectodomain, ultimately leading to the activating conformation of the 7TM domain. Moreover, the data lead us to propose that FSHR exists as a trimer and to present an FSHR activation mechanism consistent with the observed trimeric crystal form. A trimeric receptor provides resolution of the enigmatic, but important, biological roles played by GPH residues that are removed from the primary FSH-binding site, as well as several important GPCR phenomena, including negative cooperativity and asymmetric activation. Further reflection pursuant to this review process revealed additional novel structural characteristics such as the identification of a 'seat' sequence in GPH. Together with the 'seatbelt', the 'seat' enables a common heteodimeric mode of association of the common α subunit non-covalently and non-specifically with each of the three different β subunits. Moreover, it was possible to establish a dimensional order that can be used to estimate LRR curvatures. A potential binding pocket for small molecular allosteric modulators in the FSHR 7TM domain has also been identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-451
Number of pages28
JournalMolecular and Cellular Endocrinology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 25 2014


  • 'Seat' sequence
  • Allosteric modulator
  • GPCR trimer
  • LRR curvature estimation
  • Receptor activation mechanism
  • Reproductive

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology


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