Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Vasanthi Jayaraman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Renhao Li, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Spudich, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lei Zheng, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Raymond Grill, Ph.D.


Ionotropic glutamate receptors are important excitatory neurotransmitter receptors in the mammalian central nervous system that have been implicated in a number of neuropathologies such as epilepsy, ischemia, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Glutamate binding to an extracellular ligand binding domain initiates a series of structural changes that leads to the formation of a cation selective transmembrane channel, which consequently closes due to desensitization of the receptor. The crystal structures of the AMPA subtype of the glutamate receptor have been particularly useful in providing initial insight into the conformational changes in the ligand binding domain; however, these structures are limited by crystallographic constraint. To gain a clear picture of how agonist binding is coupled to channel activation and desensitization, it is essential to study changes in the ligand binding domain in a dynamic, physiological state. In this dissertation, a technique called Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer was used to determine the conformational changes associated with activation and desensitization in a functional AMPA receptor (ÄN*-AMPA) that contains the ligand binding domain and transmembrane segments; ÄN*-AMPA has been modified such that fluorophores can be introduced at specific sites to serve as a readout of cleft closure or to establish intersubunit distances. Previous structural studies of cleft closure of the isolated ligand binding domain in conjunction with functional studies of the full receptor suggest that extent of cleft closure correlates with extent of activation. Here, LRET has been used to show that a similar relationship between cleft closure and activation is observed in the “full length” receptor showing that the isolated ligand binding domain is a good model of the domain in the full length receptor for changes within a subunit. Similar LRET investigations were used to study intersubunit distances specifically to probe conformational changes between subunits within a dimer in the tetrameric receptor. These studies show that the dimer interface is coupled in the open state, and decoupled in the desensitized state, similar to the isolated ligand binding domain crystal structure studies. However, we show that the apo state dimer interface is not pre-formed as in the crystal structure, hence suggesting a mechanism for functional transitions within the receptor based on LRET distances obtained.


AMPA receptor, Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, structure-function, ion channel