DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs): chemogenetic tools with therapeutic utility

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2015:55:399-417. doi: 10.1146/annurev-pharmtox-010814-124803. Epub 2014 Sep 25.


In the past decade, emerging synthetic biology technologies such as chemogenetics have dramatically transformed how pharmacologists and systems biologists deconstruct the involvement of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) in a myriad of physiological and translational settings. Here we highlight a specific chemogenetic application that extends the utility of the concept of RASSLs (receptors activated solely by synthetic ligands): We have dubbed it DREADDs (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs). As we show in this review, DREADDs are now used ubiquitously to modulate GPCR activity noninvasively in vivo. Results from these studies have directly implicated GPCR signaling in a large number of therapeutically relevant contexts. We also highlight recent applications of DREADD technology that have illuminated GPCR signaling processes that control pathways relevant to the treatment of eating disorders, obesity, and obesity-associated metabolic abnormalities. Additionally, we provide an overview of the potential utility of chemogenetic technologies for transformative therapeutics.

Keywords: G protein–coupled receptors; GPCRs; drug discovery; synthetic biology; systems biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Design*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods*
  • Mutation
  • Protein Engineering / methods*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / agonists*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Translational Research, Biomedical


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled