After stimulation with agonist, G protein coupled receptors (GPCR) undergo conformational changes that allow activation of G proteins to transduce the signal, followed by phosphorylation by kinases and arrestin binding to promote receptor internalization. Actual paradigm, based on a study of GPCR-A/rhodopsin family, suggests that a network of interactions between conserved residues located in transmembrane (TM) domains (mainly TM3, TM6 and TM7) is involved in the molecular switch leading to GPCR activation. We evaluated in CHO cells expressing the VPAC(1) receptor the role of the third transmembrane helix in agonist signalling by point mutation into Ala of the residues highly conserved in the secretin-family of receptors: Y(224), N(229), F(230), W(232), E(236), G(237), Y(239), L(240). N(229)A VPAC(1) mutant was characterized by a decrease in both potency and efficacy of VIP stimulated adenylate cyclase activity, by the absence of agonist stimulated [Ca(2+)](i) increase, by a preserved receptor recognition of agonists and antagonist and by a preserved sensitivity to GTP suggesting the importance of that residue for efficient G protein activation. N(229)D mutant was not expressed at the membrane, and the N(229)Q with a conserved mutation was less affected than the A mutant. Agonist stimulated phosphorylation and internalization of N(229)A and N(229)Q VPAC(1) were unaffected. However, the re-expression of internalized mutant receptors, but not that of the wild type receptor, was rapidly reversed after VIP washing. Receptor phosphorylation, internalization and re-expression may be thus dissociated from G protein activation and linked to another active conformation that may influence its trafficking. Mutation of that conserved amino acid in VPAC(2) could be investigated only by a conservative mutation (N(216)Q) and led to a receptor with a low VIP stimulation of adenylate cyclase, receptor phosphorylation and internalization. This indicated the importance of the conserved N residue in the TM3 of that family of receptors.