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Mol Pharmacol. 2007 Dec;72(6):1393-401. Epub 2007 Sep 27.

Functional selectivity through protean and biased agonism: who steers the ship?

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Department of Biological Reagents and Assay Development, GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development, 5 Moore Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA.


This article describes functional selectivity of agonists and antagonists and distinguishes conventional cell-based functional selectivity, where the strength of signal produces selective signaling in various organs, from true receptor active-state based selectivity, also alternatively referred to in the literature as "stimulus trafficking," "biased agonism," and "collateral efficacy." This latter mechanism of selectivity depends on the ligand-related conformation of the receptor and is not compatible with the parsimonious view that agonists produce a single receptor active state. In addition, protean agonism is described, whereby a ligand produces positive agonism in quiescent systems and inverse agonism in constitutively active systems. This is a special case of active state-based selectivity in which the ligand produces an active state that is of lower efficacy than the natural constitutively active state. It is postulated that receptor active-state based selectivity, unlike cell-based functional selectivity, is controllable through the chemical structure of the ligand and is therefore more likely to be a viable avenue for therapeutic selectivity in the clinic. Reasons are given for differentiating receptor active-state based selectivity from conventional functional organ selectivity.

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