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Loss of biased signaling at a G protein-coupled receptor in overexpressed systems

Li, A;Liu, S;Huang, R;Ahn, S;Lefkowitz, RJ;

G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) regulate cellular signaling pathways by coupling to two classes of transducers: heterotrimeric G proteins and β-arrestins. [Sarcosine1Ile4Ile8]-angiotensin II (SII), an analog of the endogenous ligand angiotensin II (AngII) for the angiotensin II type 1 receptor (AT1R), fails to activate G protein in physiologically relevant models. Despite this, SII and several derivatives induce cellular signaling outcomes through β-arrestin-2-dependent mechanisms. However, studies reliant on exogenous AT1overexpression indicate that SII is a partial agonist for G protein signaling and lacks β-arrestin-exclusive functional specificity. We investigated this apparent discrepancy by profiling changes in functional specificity at increasing expression levels of AT1R using a stably integrated tetracycline-titratable expression system stimulated with AngII, SII, and four other AngII analogs displaying different signaling biases. Unbiased and G protein-biased ligands activated dose-dependent calcium responses at all tested receptor concentrations. In contrast, β-arrestin-biased ligands induced dose-dependent calcium signaling only at higher AT1R overexpression levels. Using inhibitors of G proteins, we demonstrated that both Gi and Gq/11 mediated overexpression-dependent calcium signaling by β-arrestin-biased ligands. Regarding β-arrestin-mediated cellular events, the β-arrestin-biased ligand TRV026 induced receptor internalization at low physiological receptor levels insufficient for it to initiate calcium signaling. In contrast, unbiased AngII exhibited no relative preference between these outcomes under such low receptor conditions. However, with high receptor overexpression, TRV026 lost its functional selectivity. These results suggest receptor overexpression misleadingly distorts the bias of AT1R ligands and highlight the risks of using overexpressed systems to infer the signaling bias of GPCR ligands in physiologically relevant contexts.