The seven transmembrane helices of serpentine receptors comprise a conserved switch that relays signals from extracellular stimuli to heterotrimeric G proteins on the cytoplasmic face of the membrane. By substituting histidines for residues at the cytoplasmic ends of helices III and VI in retinal rhodopsin, we engineered a metal-binding site whose occupancy by Zn(II) prevented the receptor from activating a retinal G protein, Gt (Sheikh, S. P., Zvyaga, T. A. , Lichtarge, O., Sakmar, T. P., and Bourne, H. R. (1996) Nature 383, 347-350). Now we report engineering of metal-binding sites bridging the cytoplasmic ends of these two helices in two other serpentine receptors, the beta2-adrenoreceptor and the parathyroid hormone receptor; occupancy of the metal-binding site by Zn(II) markedly impairs the ability of each receptor to mediate ligand-dependent activation of Gs, the stimulatory regulator of adenylyl cyclase. We infer that these two receptors share with rhodopsin a common three-dimensional architecture and an activation switch that requires movement, relative to one another, of helices III and VI; these inferences are surprising in the case of the parathyroid hormone receptor, a receptor that contains seven stretches of hydrophobic sequence but whose amino acid sequence otherwise shows no apparent similarity to those of receptors in the rhodopsin family. These findings highlight the evolutionary conservation of the switch mechanism of serpentine receptors and help to constrain models of how the switch works.