Colloidal aggregation causes inhibition of G protein-coupled receptors

J Med Chem. 2013 Mar 28;56(6):2406-14. doi: 10.1021/jm301749y. Epub 2013 Mar 12.


Colloidal aggregation is the dominant mechanism for artifactual inhibition of soluble proteins, and controls against it are now widely deployed. Conversely, investigating this mechanism for membrane-bound receptors has proven difficult. Here we investigate the activity of four well-characterized aggregators against three G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) recognizing peptide and protein ligands. Each of the aggregators was active at micromolar concentrations against the three GPCRs in cell-based assays. This activity could be attenuated by either centrifugation of the inhibitor stock solution or by addition of Tween-80 detergent. In the absence of agonist, the aggregators acted as inverse agonists, consistent with a direct receptor interaction. Meanwhile, several literature GPCR ligands that resemble aggregators themselves formed colloids, by both physical and enzymological tests. These observations suggest that some GPCRs may be artifactually antagonized by colloidal aggregates, an effect that merits the attention of investigators in this field.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Clotrimazole / chemistry
  • Clotrimazole / pharmacology
  • Colloids / chemistry*
  • Colloids / pharmacology*
  • Itraconazole / chemistry
  • Itraconazole / pharmacology
  • Ligands
  • Models, Molecular
  • Phenolphthaleins / chemistry
  • Phenolphthaleins / pharmacology
  • Protein Conformation
  • Quercetin / chemistry
  • Quercetin / pharmacology
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / chemistry
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Colloids
  • Ligands
  • Phenolphthaleins
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • tetraiodophenolphthalein
  • Itraconazole
  • Quercetin
  • Clotrimazole