Orphan G-protein-coupled receptors and natural ligand discovery

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2001 Mar;22(3):132-40. doi: 10.1016/s0165-6147(00)01636-9.


The superfamily of seven-transmembrane-domain G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) is the largest and most diverse group of transmembrane proteins involved in signal transduction. Each of the approximately 1000 family members found in vertebrates responds to stimuli as diverse as hormones, neurotransmitters, odorants and light, which selectively activate intracellular signaling events mediated by heterotrimeric G proteins. Because GPCRs are centrally positioned in the plasma membrane to initiate a cascade of cellular responses by diverse extracellular mediators, it is not surprising that modulation of GPCR function has been successful in the development of many marketed therapeutic agents. It has become clear that GPCRs for which a natural activating ligand has not yet been identified (orphan GPCRs) might provide a path to discovering new cellular substances that are important in human physiology. The process of 'de-orphanizing' these novel proteins has accelerated significantly and opened up new avenues for research in human physiology and pharmacology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Odorant / isolation & purification
  • Receptors, Odorant / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Odorant / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Odorant
  • G-protein coupled receptor OR3