G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) exhibit a spectrum of functional behaviours in response to natural and synthetic ligands. Recent crystal structures provide insights into inactive states of several GPCRs. Efforts to obtain an agonist-bound active-state GPCR structure have proven difficult due to the inherent instability of this state in the absence of a G protein. We generated a camelid antibody fragment (nanobody) to the human β2 adrenergic receptor (β2 AR) that exhibits G protein-like behaviour, and obtained an agonist-bound, active-state crystal structure of the receptor-nanobody complex. Comparison with the inactive β2 AR structure reveals subtle changes in the binding pocket; however, these small changes are associated with an 11 Å outward movement of the cytoplasmic end of transmembrane segment 6, and rearrangements of transmembrane segments 5 and 7 that are remarkably similar to those observed in opsin, an active form of rhodopsin. This structure provides insights into the process of agonist binding and activation.
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