The ghrelin receptor isoforms (GHS-R1a and GHS-R1b) and GPR39 : an investigation into receptor dimerisation

Cunningham, Peter Stephen (2010) The ghrelin receptor isoforms (GHS-R1a and GHS-R1b) and GPR39 : an investigation into receptor dimerisation. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Western males. Current diagnostic, prognostic and treatment approaches are not ideal and advanced metastatic prostate cancer is incurable. There is an urgent need for improved adjunctive therapies and markers for this disease. GPCRs are likely to play a significant role in the initiation and progression of prostate cancer. Over the last decade, it has emerged that G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are likely to function as homodimers and heterodimers. Heterodimerisation between GPCRs can result in the formation of novel pharmacological receptors with altered functional outcomes, and a number of GPCR heterodimers have been implicated in the pathogenesis of human disease. Importantly, novel GPCR heterodimers represent potential new targets for the development of more specific therapeutic drugs.

Ghrelin is a 28 amino acid peptide hormone which has a unique n-octanoic acid post-translational modification. Ghrelin has a number of important physiological roles, including roles in appetite regulation and the stimulation of growth hormone release. The ghrelin receptor is the growth hormone secretagogue receptor type 1a, GHS-R1a, a seven transmembrane domain GPCR, and GHS-R1b is a C-terminally truncated isoform of the ghrelin receptor, consisting of five transmembrane domains. Growing evidence suggests that ghrelin and the ghrelin receptor isoforms, GHS-R1a and GHS-R1b, may have a role in the progression of a number of cancers, including prostate cancer. Previous studies by our research group have shown that the truncated ghrelin receptor isoform, GHS-R1b, is not expressed in normal prostate, however, it is expressed in prostate cancer. The altered expression of this truncated isoform may reflect a difference between a normal and cancerous state. A number of mutant GPCRs have been shown to regulate the function of their corresponding wild-type receptors. Therefore, we investigated the potential role of interactions between GHS-R1a and GHS-R1b, which are co-expressed in prostate cancer and aimed to investigate the function of this potentially new pharmacological receptor.

In 2005, obestatin, a 23 amino acid C-terminally amidated peptide derived from preproghrelin was identified and was described as opposing the stimulating effects of ghrelin on appetite and food intake. GPR39, an orphan GPCR which is closely related to the ghrelin receptor, was identified as the endogenous receptor for obestatin. Recently, however, the ability of obestatin to oppose the effects of ghrelin on appetite and food intake has been questioned, and furthermore, it appears that GPR39 may in fact not be the obestatin receptor. The role of GPR39 in the prostate is of interest, however, as it is a zinc receptor. Zinc has a unique role in the biology of the prostate, where it is normally accumulated at high levels, and zinc accumulation is altered in the development of prostate malignancy. Ghrelin and zinc have important roles in prostate cancer and dimerisation of their receptors may have novel roles in malignant prostate cells.

The aim of the current study, therefore, was to demonstrate the formation of GHS-R1a/GHS-R1b and GHS-R1a/GPR39 heterodimers and to investigate potential functions of these heterodimers in prostate cancer cell lines. To demonstrate dimerisation we first employed a classical co-immunoprecipitation technique. Using cells co-overexpressing FLAG- and Myc- tagged GHS-R1a, GHS-R1b and GPR39, we were able to co-immunoprecipitate these receptors. Significantly, however, the receptors formed high molecular weight aggregates. A number of questions have been raised over the propensity of GPCRs to aggregate during co-immunoprecipitation as a result of their hydrophobic nature and this may be misinterpreted as receptor dimerisation. As we observed significant receptor aggregation in this study, we used additional methods to confirm the specificity of these putative GPCR interactions.

We used two different resonance energy transfer (RET) methods; bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), to investigate interactions between the ghrelin receptor isoforms and GPR39. RET is the transfer of energy from a donor fluorophore to an acceptor fluorophore when they are in close proximity, and RET methods are, therefore, applicable to the observation of specific protein-protein interactions. Extensive studies using the second generation bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET2) technology were performed, however, a number of technical limitations were observed. The substrate used during BRET2 studies, coelenterazine 400a, has a low quantum yield and rapid signal decay. This study highlighted the requirement for the expression of donor and acceptor tagged receptors at high levels so that a BRET ratio can be determined. After performing a number of BRET2 experimental controls, our BRET2 data did not fit the predicted results for a specific interaction between these receptors. The interactions that we observed may in fact represent ‘bystander BRET’ resulting from high levels of expression, forcing the donor and acceptor into close proximity. Our FRET studies employed two different FRET techniques, acceptor photobleaching FRET and sensitised emission FRET measured by flow cytometry. We were unable to observe any significant FRET, or FRET values that were likely to result from specific receptor dimerisation between GHS-R1a, GHS-R1b and GPR39.

While we were unable to conclusively demonstrate direct dimerisation between GHS-R1a, GHS-R1b and GPR39 using several methods, our findings do not exclude the possibility that these receptors interact. We aimed to investigate if co-expression of combinations of these receptors had functional effects in prostate cancers cells. It has previously been demonstrated that ghrelin stimulates cell proliferation in prostate cancer cell lines, through ERK1/2 activation, and GPR39 can stimulate ERK1/2 signalling in response to zinc treatments. Additionally, both GHS-R1a and GPR39 display a high level of constitutive signalling and these constitutively active receptors can attenuate apoptosis when overexpressed individually in some cell types. We, therefore, investigated ERK1/2 and AKT signalling and cell survival in prostate cancer the potential modulation of these functions by dimerisation between GHS-R1a, GHS-R1b and GPR39. Expression of these receptors in the PC-3 prostate cancer cell line, either alone or in combination, did not alter constitutive ERK1/2 or AKT signalling, basal apoptosis or tunicamycin-stimulated apoptosis, compared to controls.

In summary, the potential interactions between the ghrelin receptor isoforms, GHS-R1a and GHS-R1b, and the related zinc receptor, GPR39, and the potential for functional outcomes in prostate cancer were investigated using a number of independent methods. We did not definitively demonstrate the formation of these dimers using a number of state of the art methods to directly demonstrate receptor-receptor interactions. We investigated a number of potential functions of GPR39 and GHS-R1a in the prostate and did not observe altered function in response to co-expression of these receptors. The technical questions raised by this study highlight the requirement for the application of extensive controls when using current methods for the demonstration of GPCR dimerisation. Similar findings in this field reflect the current controversy surrounding the investigation of GPCR dimerisation. Although GHS-R1a/GHS-R1b or GHS-R1a/GPR39 heterodimerisation was not clearly demonstrated, this study provides a basis for future investigations of these receptors in prostate cancer. Additionally, the results presented in this study and growing evidence in the literature highlight the requirement for an extensive understanding of the experimental method and the performance of a range of controls to avoid the spurious interpretation of data gained from artificial expression systems. The future development of more robust techniques for investigating GPCR dimerisation is clearly required and will enable us to elucidate whether GHS-R1a, GHS-R1b and GPR39 form physiologically relevant dimers.

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ID Code: 39443
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Chopin, Lisa & Herington, Adrian
Keywords: Ghrelin, GHS-R1a, GHS-R1b, GPR39, zinc, GPCR, receptor dimerisation, resonance energy transfer, BRET2, FRET, signalling, MAPK, ERK1/2, AKT, apoptosis, prostate cancer
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 06 Jan 2011 05:31
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 20:01

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