16 November 2016
G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) can initiate intracellular signaling cascades by coupling to an array of heterotrimeric G proteins and arrestin adaptor proteins. Understanding the contribution of each of these coupling options to GPCR signaling has been hampered by a paucity of tools to selectively perturb receptor function. Here we employ CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to eliminate selected G proteins (Gα q and Gα 11) or arrestin2 and arrestin3 from HEK293 cells together with the elimination of receptor phosphorylation sites to define the relative contribution of G proteins, arrestins, and receptor phosphorylation to the signaling outcomes of the free fatty acid receptor 4 (FFA4). A lack of FFA4-mediated elevation of intracellular Ca 2+ in Gα q/Gα 11-null cells and agonist-mediated receptor internalization in arrestin2/3-null cells confirmed previously reported canonical signaling features of this receptor, thereby validating the genome-edited HEK293 cells. FFA4-mediated ERK1/2 activation was totally dependent on G q/ 11 but intriguingly was substantially enhanced for FFA4 receptors lacking sites of regulated phosphorylation. This was not due to a simple lack of desensitization of G q/ 11 signaling because the G q/ 11-dependent calcium response was desensitized by both receptor phosphorylation and arrestin-dependent mechanisms, whereas a substantially enhanced ERK1/2 response was only observed for receptors lacking phosphorylation sites and not in arrestin2/3-null cells. In conclusion, we validate CRISPR/Cas9 engineered HEK293 cells lacking G q/ 11 or arrestin2/3 as systems for GPCR signaling research and employ these cells to reveal a previously unappreciated interplay of signaling pathways where receptor phosphorylation can impact on ERK1/2 signaling through a mechanism that is likely independent of arrestins.