Partial agonists and G protein-coupled receptor desensitization

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 1999 Jul;20(7):279-86. doi: 10.1016/s0165-6147(99)01351-6.


Weak or partial agonists induce less desensitization of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) than do strong agonists. However, there have been few attempts to relate partial agonism quantitatively with the various parameters of agonist-induced desensitization, and to elucidate the mechanisms involved. Our understanding of how the treatment of cells and tissues with partial agonists affects their capacity to activate receptors is based on continued progress in defining partial agonism and the mechanisms of desensitization in which protein kinases, phosphatases, endocytosis and recycling play various roles. In this review, current research concerning partial-agonist-induced desensitization of GPCRs and the nature of partial agonism is summarized, and an attempt is made to put the existing knowledge into a working hypothesis concerning the mechanisms that account for the reduced desensitization in response to partial agonists.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Desensitization, Immunologic*
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / agonists*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / immunology*


  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • GTP-Binding Proteins