Dissociations in the effects of β2-adrenergic receptor agonists on cAMP formation and superoxide production in human neutrophils: support for the concept of functional selectivity

PLoS One. 2013 May 31;8(5):e64556. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064556. Print 2013.


In neutrophils, activation of the β2-adrenergic receptor (β2AR), a Gs-coupled receptor, inhibits inflammatory responses, which could be therapeutically exploited. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of various β2AR ligands on adenosine-3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) accumulation and N-formyl-L-methionyl-L-leucyl-L-phenylalanine (fMLP)-induced superoxide anion (O2(•-)) production in human neutrophils and to probe the concept of ligand-specific receptor conformations (also referred to as functional selectivity or biased signaling) in a native cell system. This is an important question because so far, evidence for functional selectivity has been predominantly obtained with recombinant systems, due to the inherent difficulties to genetically manipulate human native cells. cAMP concentration was determined by HPLC/tandem mass spectrometry, and O2(•-) formation was assessed by superoxide dismutase-inhibitable reduction of ferricytochrome c. β2AR agonists were generally more potent in inhibiting fMLP-induced O2(•-) production than in stimulating cAMP accumulation. (-)-Ephedrine and dichloroisoproterenol were devoid of any agonistic activity in the cAMP assay, but partially inhibited fMLP-induced O2(•-) production. Moreover, (-)-adrenaline was equi-efficacious in both assays whereas the efficacy of salbutamol was more than two-fold higher in the O2(•-) assay. Functional selectivity was visualized by deviations of ligand potencies and efficacies from linear correlations for various parameters. We obtained no evidence for involvement of protein kinase A in the inhibition of fMLP-induced O2(•-) production after β2AR-stimulation although cAMP-increasing substances inhibited O2(•-) production. Taken together, our data corroborate the concept of ligand-specific receptor conformations with unique signaling capabilities in native human cells and suggest that the β2AR inhibits O2(•-) production in a cAMP-independent manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Albuterol / pharmacology
  • Cyclic AMP / biosynthesis*
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Ephedrine / pharmacology
  • Epinephrine / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isoproterenol / analogs & derivatives
  • Isoproterenol / pharmacology
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • N-Formylmethionine Leucyl-Phenylalanine / pharmacology
  • Neutrophils / cytology
  • Neutrophils / drug effects*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2 / chemistry
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Superoxides / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Superoxides / metabolism*


  • Adrenergic Agonists
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta-2
  • Superoxides
  • N-Formylmethionine Leucyl-Phenylalanine
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Ephedrine
  • Isoproterenol
  • Albuterol
  • dichloroisoproterenol
  • Epinephrine

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Research Training Program GRK760 “Medicinal Chemistry: Molecular Recognition – Ligand-Receptor Interactions” of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.