Mechanisms of signalling and biased agonism in G protein-coupled receptors

Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol. 2018 Oct;19(10):638-653. doi: 10.1038/s41580-018-0049-3.


G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the largest group of cell surface receptors in humans that signal in response to diverse inputs and regulate a plethora of cellular processes. Hence, they constitute one of the primary drug target classes. Progress in our understanding of GPCR dynamics, activation and signalling has opened new possibilities for selective drug development. A key advancement has been provided by the concept of biased agonism, which describes the ability of ligands acting at the same GPCR to elicit distinct cellular signalling profiles by preferentially stabilizing different active conformational states of the receptor. Application of this concept raises the prospect of 'designer' biased agonists as optimized therapeutics with improved efficacy and/or reduced side-effect profiles. However, this application will require a detailed understanding of the spectrum of drug actions and a structural understanding of the drug-receptor interactions that drive distinct pharmacologies. The recent revolution in GPCR structural biology provides unprecedented insights into ligand binding, conformational dynamics and the control of signalling outcomes. These insights, together with new approaches to multi-dimensional analysis of drug action, are allowing refined classification of drugs according to their pharmacodynamic profiles, which can be linked to receptor structure and predictions of preclinical drug efficacy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / agonists*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled