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Physiological significance of alpha(2)-adrenergic receptor subtype diversity: one receptor is not enough.

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Institut für Pharmakologie und Toxikologie, Universität Würzburg, 97078 Würzburg, Germany.


Alpha(2)-adrenergic receptors mediate part of the diverse biological effects of the endogenous catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine. Three distinct subtypes of alpha(2)-adrenergic receptors, alpha(2A), alpha(2B), alpha(2C), have been identified from multiple species. Because of the lack of sufficiently subtype-selective ligands, the specific biological functions of these receptor subtypes were largely unknown until recently. Gene-targeted mice carrying deletions in the genes encoding for individual alpha(2)-receptor subtypes have added important new insight into the physiological significance of adrenergic receptor diversity. Two different strategies have emerged to regulate adrenergic signal transduction. Some biological functions are controlled by two counteracting alpha(2)-receptor subtypes, e.g., alpha(2A)-receptors decrease sympathetic outflow and blood pressure, whereas the alpha(2B)-subtype increases blood pressure. Other biological functions are regulated by synergistic alpha(2)-receptor subtypes. The inhibitory presynaptic feedback loop that tightly regulates neurotransmitter release from adrenergic nerves also requires two receptor subtypes, alpha(2A) and alpha(2C). Similarly, nociception is controlled at several levels by one of the three alpha(2)-receptor subtypes. Further investigation of the specific function of alpha(2)-subtypes will greatly enhance our understanding of the relevance of closely related receptor proteins and point out novel therapeutic strategies for subtype-selective drug development.

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