Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


Background in Biology and/or Chemistry.


How do we communicate with the outside world? How are our senses of vision, smell, taste and pain controlled at the cellular and molecular levels? What causes medical conditions like allergies, hypertension, depression, obesity and various central nervous system disorders? G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) provide a major part of the answer to all of these questions. GPCRs constitute the largest family of cell-surface receptors and in humans are encoded by more than 1,000 genes. GPCRs convert extracellular messages into intracellular responses and are involved in essentially all physiological processes. GPCR dysfunction results in numerous human disorders, and over 50% of all prescription drugs on the market today directly or indirectly target GPCRs. In this course, we will discuss GPCR signal transduction pathways, GPCR oligomerization and the diseases caused by GPCR dysfunction. We will study the structure and function of rhodopsin, a dim-light photoreceptor and a well-studied GPCR that converts light into electric impulses sent to the brain and leads to vision. We will also discuss how mutations in rhodopsin cause retinal degeneration and congenital night blindness.


The course is a weekly seminar based on the primary scientific literature concerning G-protein coupled receptors. The main goal of this course is to familiarize students with the critical reading, analysis and discussion of scientific papers. We will discuss two papers each. The papers must be read before coming to the class. You will be expected to send me via email one or two discussion questions by the morning of the class. You are expected to actively engage in class discussions. Each class will conclude with a short introduction to the papers to be presented in the next class.

We will visit on-campus Atomic Force Microscopy Facility. We will also have a field trip to a biotechnology company in the Cambridge area.


Attendance is central to this course. No more than one class can be missed. If you do miss a class, we will arrange a make-up assignment, for example a one-page summary of the paper discussed in that particular class.

This course will be graded pass/fail. Active participation in class discussion, completion of the assignments and attendance will result in a passing grade.


1 Introduction
2 G-Protein coupled receptors and rhodopsin
3 Visual cascade part I - Activation of rhodopsin by light
4 Visual cascade part II - Rhodopsin and G protein (transducin) interaction
5 Visit to an Atomic Force Microscopy Facility
6 Rhodopsin dimerization
7 Rhodopsin mutations, retinal degeneration and night blindness
8 Field trip to the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research
9 Drug addiction - Dopamine receptors and activation mechanism
10 Allergies - Histamine receptors
11 How do mutations in chemokine receptors inhibit CCR5-mediated HIV infection?
12 Sense of smell: Olfactory receptors
13 Sense of taste: Taste receptors
14 Oral presentations: General discussion and future perspectives