Pharmacomechanical coupling: the role of calcium, G-proteins, kinases and phosphatases

Rev Physiol Biochem Pharmacol. 1999;134:201-34. doi: 10.1007/3-540-64753-8_5.


The concept of pharmacomechanical coupling, introduced 30 years ago to account for physiological mechanisms that can regulate contraction of smooth muscle independently of the membrane potential, has since been transformed from a definition into what we now recognize as a complex of well-defined, molecular mechanisms. The release of Ca2+ from the SR by a chemical messenger, InsP3, is well known to be initiated not by depolarization, but by agonist-receptor interaction. Furthermore, this G-protein-coupled phosphatidylinositol cascade, one of many processes covered by the umbrella of pharmacomechanical coupling, is part of complex and general signal transduction mechanisms also operating in many non-muscle cells of diverse organisms. It is also clear that, although the major contractile regulatory mechanism of smooth muscle, phosphorylation/dephosphorylation of MLC20, is [Ca2+]-dependent, the activity of both the kinase and the phosphatase can also be modulated independently of [Ca2+]i. Sensitization to Ca2+ is attributed to inhibition of SMPP-1M, a process most likely dominated by activation of the monomeric GTP-binding protein RhoA that, in turn, activates Rho-kinase that phosphorylates the regulatory subunit of SMPP-1M and inhibits its myosin phosphatase activity. It is likely that the tonic phase of contraction activated by a variety of excitatory agonists is, at least in part, mediated by this Ca(2+)-sensitizing mechanism. Desensitization to Ca2+ can occur either through inhibitory phosphorylation of MLCK by other kinases or autophosphorylation and by activation of SMPP-1M by cyclic nucleotide-activated kinases, probably involving phosphorylation of a phosphatase activator. Based on our current understanding of the complexity of the many cross-talking signal transduction mechanisms that operate in cells, it is likely that, in the future, our current concepts will be refined, additional mechanisms of pharmacomechanical coupling will be recognized, and those contributing to the pathologenesis diseases, such as hypertension and asthma, will be identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / physiology*
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth / enzymology*
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology*
  • Phosphoric Monoester Hydrolases / physiology*
  • Phosphotransferases / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Phosphotransferases
  • Phosphoric Monoester Hydrolases
  • GTP-Binding Proteins
  • Calcium