Real-time monitoring of G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling in native cells suggests that the receptor for thyroid stimulating hormone remains active after internalization, challenging the current model for GPCR signaling.
G-protein–coupled receptors (GPCRs) are generally thought to signal to second messengers like cyclic AMP (cAMP) from the cell surface and to become internalized upon repeated or prolonged stimulation. Once internalized, they are supposed to stop signaling to second messengers but may trigger nonclassical signals such as mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation. Here, we show that a GPCR continues to stimulate cAMP production in a sustained manner after internalization. We generated transgenic mice with ubiquitous expression of a fluorescent sensor for cAMP and studied cAMP responses to thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in native, 3-D thyroid follicles isolated from these mice. TSH stimulation caused internalization of the TSH receptors into a pre-Golgi compartment in close association with G-protein α s-subunits and adenylyl cyclase III. Receptors internalized together with TSH and produced downstream cellular responses that were distinct from those triggered by cell surface receptors. These data suggest that classical paradigms of GPCR signaling may need revision, as they indicate that cAMP signaling by GPCRs may occur both at the cell surface and from intracellular sites, but with different consequences for the cell.
Cells respond to many environmental cues through the activity of cell surface receptor proteins, which sense these cues and convey that information to signaling molecules inside the cell. G-protein–coupled receptors (GPCRs) form the largest eukaryotic family of plasma membrane receptors. They convert the information provided by extracellular stimuli into intracellular second messengers, like cyclic AMP (cAMP). After prolonged stimulation, they are internalized inside cells, an event that to date has been thought to terminate the production of second messengers. Though many of the key steps of GPCR signaling are known in detail, precisely how signaling and termination actually occur in time and space (i.e., in subcellular compartments or microdomains) is still largely unexplored. To observe GPCR signaling in living cells, we generated mice expressing a fluorescent sensor that allows monitoring the intracellular levels of cAMP with a microscope. We utilized this system to study, directly in native thyroid follicles, the signal sent by the receptor for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Our findings indicate that TSH receptors are internalized rapidly after activation but continue to stimulate cAMP production inside cells and that this sustained, cAMP production is apparently required for localized activation of downstream components. These data challenge the current model of the GPCR-cAMP pathway by suggesting the existence of previously unrecognized intracellular site(s) for cAMP generation and of differential signaling outcomes as a result of intracellular GPCR signaling. Such intracellular site(s) may provide specialized signaling platforms, thus contributing to the spatiotemporal regulation of cAMP production and to signaling specificity within the GPCR family.