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Structural mechanisms underlying activation of TRPV1 channels by pungent compounds in gingers

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Background and purpose

Like chili peppers, gingers produce pungent stimuli by a group of vanilloid compounds that activate the nociceptive transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) ion channel. How these compounds interact with TRPV1 remains unclear.

Experimental approach

We used computational structural modelling, functional tests (electrophysiology and calcium imaging), and mutagenesis to investigate the structural mechanisms underlying ligand-channel interactions.

Key results

The potency of three principal pungent compounds from ginger -shogaol, gingerol, and zingerone-depends on the same two residues in the TRPV1 channel that form a hydrogen bond with the chili pepper pungent compound, capsaicin. Computational modelling revealed binding poses of these ginger compounds similar to those of capsaicin, including a "head-down tail-up" orientation, two specific hydrogen bonds, and important contributions of van der Waals interactions by the aliphatic tail. Our study also identified a novel horizontal binding pose of zingerone that allows it to directly interact with the channel pore when bound inside the ligand-binding pocket. These observations offer a molecular level explanation for how unique structures in the ginger compounds affect their channel activation potency.

Conclusions and implications

Mechanistic insights into the interactions of ginger compounds and the TRPV1 cation channel should help guide drug discovery efforts to modulate nociception.

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