Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jeffrey M. Becker

Committee Members

Chunlei Su, Todd B. Reynolds, Elizabeth E. Howell, Timothy E. Sparer


The G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) family is composed of hundreds of members and is expressed in eukaryotes. Each GPCR has seven transmembrane domains and is in charge of sensing changes from the environment, transducing signals, and activating a series of biological responses. The signal transduction pathway of the receptor starts from sensing outside signal and then activates G proteins. This signaling requires a tight control for activation without which impaired cellular function leads to pathology. We have used the pheromone alpha-factor receptor (Ste2p) of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model system to understand ligand binding, receptor activation, and G protein interaction. One method we have used to study ligand binding is to incorporate the photo-reactive crosslinker p-benzoyl-L-phenylalanine (Bpa) into Ste2p to capture alpha-factor. This powerful tool requires the incorporation of Bpa, an unnatural amino acid, into Ste2p by a special genetic manipulation designed in the lab of Peter Schulz (Scripps Institute) and adapted by our lab for Ste2p. Another method to study ligand binding that we have adapted for use in our system is to incorporate a chemical crosslinker [3,4-dihydroxylphenylacetyl (DHPA)] into alpha-factor for periodate-mediated crosslinking to Ste2p. The interacting domain between alpha-factor and transmembrane domain 2 to 3 of Ste2p was identified after DOPAC crosslinking, cyanogen bromide digestion and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. After ligand binding, signal transduction is mediated by the interaction of activated Ste2p with its G protein (Gpa1p). We studied this interaction by replacing natural residues in the intracellular loop 3 of Ste2p and C-terminal end of Gpa1p with cysteine and then determining disulfide crosslinking between Ste2p and Gpa1p. Some residues were found to be in close proximity and displayed different interacting patterns due to conformational changes of the receptor upon ligand binding. The information we gathered here allows us to understand more about the physical interactions of alpha-factor, Ste2p, and Gpa1p and provides us insights about the initiation and activation of the signal transduction pathway of a peptide ligand receptor.

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