The impact of membrane protein diffusion on GPCR signaling

Horst-Holger Boltz*, Alexei Sirbu, Nina Stelzer, Primal de Lanerolle, Stefanie Winkelmann, Paolo Annibale

*Corresponding author for this work

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Spatiotemporal signal shaping in G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling is now a well-established and accepted notion to explain how signaling specificity can be achieved by a superfamily sharing only a handful of downstream second messengers. Dozens of Gs-coupled GPCR signals ultimately converge on the production of cAMP, a ubiquitous second messenger. This idea is almost always framed in terms of local concentrations, the differences in which are maintained by means of spatial separation. However, given the dynamic nature of the reaction-diffusion processes at hand, the dynamics, in particular the local diffusional properties of the receptors and their cognate G proteins, are also important. By combining some first principle considerations, simulated data, and experimental data of the receptors diffusing on the membranes of living cells, we offer a short perspective on the modulatory role of local membrane diffusion in regulating GPCR-mediated cell signaling. Our analysis points to a diffusion-limited regime where the effective production rate of activated G protein scales linearly with the receptor–G protein complex’s relative diffusion rate and to an interesting role played by the membrane geometry in modulating the efficiency of coupling.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1660
Number of pages18
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2022


  • GPCR signaling
  • Spatiotemporal signal shaping
  • Diffusion-limited reaction


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