Liver-expressed antimicrobial peptide 2 (LEAP2) was recently identified as a competitive antagonist for the G protein-coupled receptor GHSR1a, the cognate receptor for the gastric peptide ghrelin. LEAP2 plays important functions in energy metabolism by tuning the ghrelin–GHSR1a system. However, the molecular mechanism by which LEAP2 binds to GHSR1a is largely unknown. In the present study, we first conducted alanine-scanning mutagenesis on the N-terminal fragment of human LEAP2 and demonstrated that the positively charged Arg6 and the aromatic Phe4 are essential for LEAP2 binding to GHSR1a. To identify the receptor residues interacting with the essential Arg6 and Phe4 of LEAP2, we conducted extensive site-directed mutagenesis on GHSR1a. After all conserved negatively charged residues in the extracellular regions of human GHSR1a were mutated, only mutation of Asp99 caused much more detriments to GHSR1a binding to LEAP2 than binding to ghrelin, suggesting that the absolutely conserved Asp99 of GHSR1a probably interacts with the essential Arg6 of LEAP2. After five conserved Phe residues in the predicted ligand-binding pocket of human GHSR1a were mutated, three of them were identified as important for GHSR1a binding to LEAP2. According to a structural model of GHSR1a, we deduced that the adjacent Phe279 and Phe312 might interact with the essential Phe4 of LEAP2, while Phe119 might interact with the aromatic Trp5 of LEAP2. The present study provided new insights into the interaction of LEAP2 with its receptor, and would facilitate the design of novel ligands for GHSR1a in future studies.

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