G Protein-Coupled Receptor Pharmacology-Insights from Mass Spectrometry

Pharmacol Rev. 2023 May;75(3):397-415. doi: 10.1124/pharmrev.120.000237. Epub 2023 Mar 14.


G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are key drug targets due to their involvement in many physiological processes. The complexity of receptor pharmacology, however, is influenced by multiple interactions with various types of ligands and protein transducers representing significant challenges for drug discovery. The ability of mass spectrometry (MS) to observe both the binding of ligand molecules, such as lipids, ions, or drugs, and their impact on interaction with transducers provides an exciting opportunity to probe many aspects that are difficult to track directly in cell-based systems. From the early days, when hydrogen deuterium exchange (HDX) experiments were used to probe the different conformations of GPCRs, through to the most recent insights in which the intact receptor-G protein/arrestin complexes associated with small molecules can be preserved by MS, this review highlights the potential of MS techniques for in-depth investigations of GPCR biology. We describe the utility of MS, including HDX-MS and native-MS, in investigating GPCR pharmacology. Specifically, we include ligand-drug interactions and Gi/s protein coupling and illustrate how these techniques can lead to the discovery of endogenous allosteric ligands and thereby offer a new perspective for drug discovery of GPCRs. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: GPCRs are the largest and most diverse group of membrane receptors in eukaryotes. To carry out signaling, GPCRs adopt a range of conformational states to elicit G-protein coupling or arrestin binding. Because of their conformational dynamics, GPCRs remain challenging to study, particular in the gas phase after release from their protective detergent micelles. Over the past decade great advances have been made, however, enabling direct measure of coupling and signaling across native membranes. In this review we highlight these advances and consider the future of this exciting and challenging area.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrestins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled* / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Arrestins