Structure-conformation-activity studies of glucagon and semi-synthetic glucagon analogs

Victor J. Hruby

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53 Scopus citations


Examination of glucagon structure-activity relationships and their use for the development of glucagon antagonists (inhibitors) have been hampered until recently by the lack of high purity of semisynthetic glucagon analogs and inadequate study of full dose-response curves for these analogs in sensitive bioassay systems. Recently a number of highly purified glucagon fragments and semi-synthetic analogs have been prepared and their full dose-response activities examined over a wide concentration range using the hepatic membrane adenylate cyclase assay, the hepatic membrane receptor binding assay, and glycogenolytic activity in isolated rat hepatocytes. The results of these studies have enabled us to identify and dissociate the structural (and in some cases conformational) features of glucagon important for binding from those most responsible for biological activity (transduction). Key findings in these studies were the observation that: (1) the C-terminal region of glucagon is primarily of importance for hormone binding to receptors; (2) glucagon1-21 and glucagon1-6 have low potency, but are essentially fully active glucagon derivatives; and (3) highly purified glucagon2-29 ([1-des-histidine]-glucagon), [1-Nα-carbamoylhistidine]-glucagon and [1-Nα-carbamoylhistidine, 12-Nα-carbamoyllysine]-glucagon are all partial agonists. These and other findings led us to synthesize several semisynthetic analogs of glucagon which were found to possess no intrinsic biological activity in the hepatic adenylate cyclase assay system, but which could block the effect of glucagon (competitive inhibitors) in activating adenylate cyclase in this system. Two of these highly purified analogs [1-des-histidine] [2-Nα-trinitrophenylserine, 12-homoarginine]-glucagon and [1-Nα-trinitrophenylhistidine, 12-homoarginine]-glucagon were quite potent glucagon antagonists (inhibitors) with pA2 values of 7.41 and 8.16 respectively. The latter compound has also been demonstrated to decrease dramatically blood glucose levels of diabetic animals in vivo. These results demonstrate that glucagon is a major contributor to the hyperglycemia of diabetic animals. Examination of the known and calculated conformational properties of glucagon provide insight into the structural and conformational properties of glucagon and its analogs most responsible for its biological activity. Consideration of these features and the mechanism of glucagon action at the membrane receptor level provide a framework for further developing glucagon analogs for theoretical and therapeutic applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-64
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular and Cellular Biochemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1982

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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