Drug efficacy at G protein-coupled receptors

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2002;42:349-79. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.42.091401.113012.


Efficacy has been defined in receptor pharmacology as a proportionality factor denoting the amount of physiological response a given ligand imparts to a biological system for a given amount of receptor occupancy. While first defined in terms of response, the concept can be expanded to a wide variety of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) behaviors, which includes pleiotropic interaction with multiple G proteins, internalization, oligomerization, desensitization, and interaction with membrane auxilliary proteins. Thus, there can be numerous types of efficacy, and different ligands can have a range of efficacies for different receptor behaviors. This review discusses the use of the efficacy concept in GPCR models based on the thermodynamic linkage theory and also in terms of the protein ensemble theory, in which macroaffinity of ligands for an ensemble of receptor microstates produces a new ligand-bound ensemble. The pharmacological characteristics of the ligand emerge from the intersection of the ligand-bound ensemble with the various ensembles defining pharmacological receptor behaviors. Receptor behaviors discussed are activation of G proteins; ability to be phosphorylated, desensitized, and internalized; formation of dimers and oligomers; and the interaction with auxiliary membrane and cytosolic proteins. The concepts of ligand-specific receptor conformation and conditional efficacy are also discussed in the context of ligand control of physiological response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dimerization
  • GTP-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Mathematics
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorylation
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / chemistry
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / drug effects
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • GTP-Binding Proteins