Oligomerization of numerous G protein-coupled receptors has been documented, including the prototypic family B secretin receptor. The clinical significance of oligomerization of this receptor became clear with the recent observation that a misspliced form present in pancreatic cancer could associate with the wild-type receptor and act as a dominant negative inhibitor of its normal growth inhibitory function. Our goal was to explore the molecular mechanism of this interaction using bioluminescence (BRET) and fluorescence (FRET) resonance energy transfer and fluorescence microscopy with a variety of receptor constructs tagged with luciferase or cyan or yellow fluorescent proteins. BRET signals comparable to those obtained from cells coexpressing differentially tagged wild-type receptors were observed for similarly tagged secretin receptors in which all or part of the amino-terminal domain was deleted. As expected, neither of these constructs bound secretin, and only the partially truncated construct sorted to the plasma membrane. Receptors lacking the majority of the carboxyl-terminal domain, including that important for phosphorylation-mediated desensitization, also produced BRET signals above background. These findings suggested that the receptor's membrane-spanning core is responsible for secretin receptor oligomerization. Interestingly, alanine substitutions for a -GxxxG- helix interaction motif in transmembrane segment 7 created nonfunctional receptors that were capable of forming oligomers. Furthermore, treatment of receptor-expressing cells with brefeldin A did not eliminate the BRET signals, and morphologic FRET experiments confirmed the expected subcellular localizations of receptor oligomers. We conclude that secretin receptor oligomerization occurs through -GxxxG- motif-independent interactions of transmembrane segments during the maturation of nascent molecules.
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