GPR40 was formerly an orphan G protein-coupled receptor whose endogenous ligands have recently been identified as free fatty acids (FFAs). The receptor, now named FFA receptor 1, has been implicated in the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes and is a drug target because of its role in FFA-mediated enhancement of glucose-stimulated insulin release. Guided by molecular modeling, we investigated the molecular determinants contributing to binding of linoleic acid, a C18 polyunsaturated FFA, and GW9508, a synthetic small molecule agonist. Twelve residues within the putative GPR40-binding pocket including hydrophilic/positively charged, aromatic, and hydrophobic residues were identified and were subjected to site-directed mutagenesis. Our results suggest that linoleic acid and GW9508 are anchored on their carboxylate groups by Arg183, Asn244, and Arg258. Moreover, His86, Tyr91, and His137 may contribute to aromatic and/or hydrophobic interactions with GW9508 that are not present, or relatively weak, with linoleic acid. The anchor residues, as well as the residues Tyr12, Tyr91, His137, and Leu186, appear to be important for receptor activation also. Interestingly, His137 and particularly His86 may interact with GW9508 in a manner dependent on its protonation status. The greater number of putative interactions between GPR40 and GW9508 compared with linoleic acid may explain the higher potency of GW9508.
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