Cyclic GMP-dependent protein kinase (PKG) is a key transducer in the NO-cGMP signaling pathway. In this line, PKG has been considered an important drug target for treating hypertensive cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. However, the investigation of PKG’s allosteric activation mechanism has been hampered by a lack of structural information. One of the fundamental questions on the cGMP-dependent activation of PKG is how the enzyme can distinguish cGMP over cAMP and selectively respond to cGMP. To ensure proper signaling, PKG must have developed unique features to ensure its activation upon the right activation signal.
In this thesis, the cGMP-selective activation mechanism of PKG was studied through determining crystal structures of three truncated constructs of the regulatory domain [CNB-A (92-227), CNB-B (271-369), and CNB-A/B (92-351)] of PKG Iβ in the absence or presence of cyclic nucleotides.
Herein, two individual CNB domain structures with biochemical data revealed that the C-terminal CNB domain (CNB-B) is responsible for cGMP selectivity, while the N-terminal CNB-domain (CNB-A) has a higher binding affinity for both cGMP and cAMP without showing any selectivity. Based on these crystal structures, mutagenesis studies were performed in which the critical residues for cyclic nucleotide selectivity and activation were identified. Furthermore, we discovered that the conformational changes of the C-terminal helix of the CNB-B that bridges between the regulatory and catalytic domains including the hydrophobic capping interaction are crucial for PKG activation.
In addition, to observe the global conformation of the activated R-domain, I solved a co-crystal structure of the CNB-A/B with cGMP. Although a monomeric construct was crystallized, the structure displays a dimer. Strikingly, the CNB-A domain and its bound cGMP provide a key interface for this dimeric interaction. Using small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), the existence of the cGMP-mediated dimeric interface within the CNB domains was confirmed. Furthermore, measuring cGMP-binding affinities (EC50) of the dimeric interface mutants as well as determining activation constants (Ka) revealed that the interface formation is important for PKG activation. To conclude, this thesis study provides a new mechanistic insight in PKG activation along with a newly found interface that can be targeted for designing PKG-specific activity modulators.