Increased constitutive activity has been observed in the PTH receptor in association with naturally occurring mutations of two residues that are conserved between members of the glucagon/vasoactive intestinal peptide/calcitonin 7TM receptor family. Here, the corresponding residues of the glucagon receptor, His178 and Thr352, were probed by mutagenesis. An elevated level of basal cAMP production was observed after the exchange of His178 into Arg, but not for the exchange into Lys, Ala, or Glu. However, for all of these His178 substitutions, an increased binding affinity for glucagon was observed [dissociation constant (Kd) ranging from 1.1-6.4 nM, wild type: Kd = 12.0 nM]. A further increase in cAMP production was observed for the [H178R] construct upon stimulation with glucagon, albeit the EC50 surprisingly was increased approximately 10-fold relative to the wild-type receptor. Substitution of Thr352, located at the intracellular end of transmembrane segment VI, with Ala led to a slightly elevated basal cAMP level, while the introduction of Pro or Ser at this position affected rather the binding affinity of glucagon or the EC50 for stimulation of cAMP production. The large extracellular segment, which is essential for glucagon binding, was not required for constitutive activation of the glucagon receptor as the introduction of the [H178R] mutation into an N-terminally truncated construct exhibited an elevated basal level of cAMP production. The analog des-His1-[Glu9]glucagon amide, which in vivo is a glucagon antagonist, was an agonist on both the wild-type and the [H178R] receptor and did not display any activity as an inverse agonist. It is concluded that the various phenotypes displayed by the constitutively active glucagon receptor mutants reflect the existence of multiple agonist-preferring receptor conformers, which include functionally active as well as inactive states. This view agrees with a recent multi-state extension of the ternary complex model for 7TM receptor activation.