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Electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) has revolutionized structure determination of membrane proteins and holds great potential for structure-based drug discovery. Here we discuss the potential of cryo-EM in the rational design of therapeutics for membrane proteins compared to X-ray crystallography. We also detail recent progress in the field of drug receptors, focusing on cryo-EM of two protein families with established therapeutic value, the γ-aminobutyric acid A receptors (GABAARs) and G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). GABAARs are pentameric ion channels, and cryo-EM structures of physiological heteromeric receptors in a lipid environment have uncovered the molecular basis of receptor modulation by drugs such as diazepam. The structures of ten GPCR-G protein complexes from three different classes of GPCRs have now been determined by cryo-EM. These structures give detailed insights into molecular interactions with drugs, GPCR-G protein selectivity, how accessory membrane proteins alter receptor-ligand pharmacology, and the mechanism by which HIV uses GPCRs to enter host cells.


Javier García-Nafría, Christopher G Tate. Cryo-Electron Microscopy: Moving Beyond X-Ray Crystal Structures for Drug Receptors and Drug Development. Annual review of pharmacology and toxicology. 2020 Jan 06;60:51-71

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PMID: 31348870

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