Operational models of pharmacological agonism

Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1983 Dec 22;220(1219):141-62. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1983.0093.


The traditional receptor-stimulus model of agonism began with a description of drug action based on the law of mass action and has developed by a series of modifications, each accounting for new experimental evidence. By contrast, in this paper an approach to modelling agonism is taken that begins with the observation that experimental agonist-concentration effect, E/[A], curves are commonly hyperbolic and develops using the deduction that the relation between occupancy and effect must be hyperbolic if the law of mass action applies at the agonist-receptor level. The result is a general model that explicitly describes agonism by three parameters: an agonist-receptor dissociation constant, KA; the total receptor concentration, [R0]; and a parameter, KE, defining the transduction of agonist-receptor complex, AR, into pharmacological effect. The ratio, [R0]/KE, described here as the 'transducer ratio', tau, is a logical definition for the efficacy of an agonist in a system. The model may be extended to account for non-hyperbolic E/[A] curves with no loss of meaning. Analysis shows that an explicit formulation of the traditional receptor-stimulus model is one particular form of the general model but that it is not the simplest. An alternative model is proposed, representing the cognitive and transducer functions of a receptor, that describes agonist action with one fewer parameter than the traditional model. In addition, this model provides a chemical definition of intrinsic efficacy making this parameter experimentally accessible in principle. The alternative models are compared and contrasted with regard to their practical and conceptual utilities in experimental pharmacology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism
  • Pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Drug / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Drug / metabolism
  • Statistics as Topic


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Receptors, Drug