Functional signaling biases in G protein-coupled receptors: Game Theory and receptor dynamics

Mini Rev Med Chem. 2012 Aug;12(9):831-40. doi: 10.2174/138955712800959071.


Pharmacotherapeutic targeting of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) is perhaps the most important field of drug design, as agents designed to control these receptors constitute more than half of the pharmacopeia. Initially GPCRs were considered to be unitary entities, possessing all of their potential functionality in their characteristic heptahelical core. Early models of the functional activity of GPCRs considered them to possess just a simple 'on' or 'off' status. Recent research however has allowed us to realize that GPCR functionality is dependent upon many other proteins outside of the heptahelical core, on the site of GPCR expression in a tissue or a microdomain in a cell, and, most importantly, on the formation of differential 'active' states preferentially coupled to specific signal transduction structures. The recognition of such signaling diversity has facilitated the ability to appreciate and identify ligands for GPCRs that demonstrate a bias towards one signaling form of a receptor to another. However while potentially increasing our ability for selective signal targeting, our approach to understanding the physiological ramifications of systemic signaling manipulation is underdeveloped. This explosion in the complexity of GPCR signaling is now becoming familiar territory to receptor biologists, yet the application of this knowledge to drug design is relatively limited. This review will attempt to outline potential pitfalls and unseen benefits of using signaling bias in therapeutic design as well as highlighting new applications such as Game Theory for uncovering new therapeutic applications for biased agonists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Products / pharmacology*
  • Drug Design
  • Feedback, Physiological / drug effects
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology
  • Game Theory
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / agonists
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Biological Products
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled