The heteromeric 5-HT3A/B receptor
: the effect of 5-HT3B subunits on receptor structure and ligand recognition

  • Paul Herbert

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The 5-HT3 receptors are members of the cys-loop family of ligand-gated ion channels. Two functional subtypes are known, the homomeric 5HT3A and the heteromeric 5HT3A/B receptors, which exhibit distinct biophysical characteristics but are difficult to differentiate pharmacologically.
Atomic force microscopy has been used to determine the stoichiometry and architecture of the heteromeric 5HT3A/B receptor. Each subunit was engineered to express a unique C-terminal epitope tag, together with six sequential histidine residues to facilitate nickel affinity purification. The 5-HT3 receptors, ectopically expressed in HEK293 cells, were solubilised, purified and decorated with antibodies to the subunit specific epitope tags. Imaging of individual receptors by atomic force microscopy revealed a pentameric arrangement of subunits in the order BBABA, reading anti-clockwise when viewed from the extracellular face.
Homology models for the heteromeric receptor were then constructed using both the electron microscopic structure of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, from Torpedo marmorata, and the X-ray crystallographic structure of the soluble acetylcholine binding protein, from Lymnaea stagnalis, as templates. These homology models were used, together with equivalent models constructed for the homomeric receptor, to interpret mutagenesis experiments designed to explore the minimal recognition differences of both the natural agonist, 5-HT, and the competitive antagonist, granisetron, for the two human receptor subtypes.
The results of this work revealed that the 5-HT3B subunit residues within the ligand binding site, for both the agonist and antagonist, are accommodating to conservative mutations. They are consistent with the view that the 5-HT3A subunit provides the principal and the 5-HT38 subunit the complementary recognition interactions at the binding interface.
Date of AwardJan 2008
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorIan L Martin (Supervisor)


  • atomic force microscopy
  • homology modeling
  • mutagenesis

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