Inverse agonism at heptahelical receptors: concept, experimental approach and therapeutic potential

Fundam Clin Pharmacol. Mar-Apr 2000;14(2):73-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1472-8206.2000.tb00395.x.


Inverse agonists (negative antagonists) are ligands that stabilize the inactive conformation (R) of receptors according to the two-state receptor model. The active conformation (R*) of heptahelical receptors, i.e. G protein-coupled receptors, has high affinity for G proteins. According to ternary complex models of receptor activation, the R*G complex is in equilibrium with R + G, with spontaneous activity in the absence of agonist. Inverse agonists, having a higher affinity for R, shift R*G towards R + G, decreasing the spontaneous activity of receptors. Agonists have the opposite effect, with a higher affinity for R*. Neutral antagonists have the same affinity for R and R* and compete for both agonists and inverse agonists. Inverse agonists have been recently proposed for a variety of heptahelical receptors. Methods to detect inverse agonists among antagonists are based on the determination of ligand affinity at R and R* with binding experiments, and on the modulation of G protein activity (GTP binding and hydrolysis) or of effector activity. Receptor inverse agonists, but also G protein antagonists and GTPase inhibitors, decrease spontaneous G protein activity corresponding to R*G. Receptor agonists, G protein agonists and GTPase inhibitors increase effector basal activity, but receptor inverse agonists decrease it. The therapeutic potential of inverse agonists is proposed in human diseases ascribed to constitutively active mutant receptors and may be extended to diseases related to wild-type receptor over-expression leading to the increase of R*. Some of the therapeutic effects of presently used receptor antagonists may be related to their inverse agonist properties. Inverse agonists lead to receptor upregulation, offering new approaches to tolerance and dependence to drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding, Competitive
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / agonists
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / agonists*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / chemistry


  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • GTP-Binding Proteins