ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Life cycle of receptors, G proteins and Second Messengers (Definition, Examples - cAMP, IP3, PIP2- Functions and more)

Updated on September 29, 2015

Welcome to ePharmacology! Today we will discuss the following topics:

Life cycle of receptors

Receptor synthesis occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum and then pass through the Golgi system.

Golgi vesicles containing receptors fuse with the plasma mem­brane, thereby inserting the receptor into the mobile lipid domain of the cell sur­face.

So receptor synthesis is just like any other protein synthesis!

Receptor mediated endocytosis
Receptor mediated endocytosis | Source

The fate of a receptor after exposure to agonist

The fate of a receptor after exposure to agonist is only known for some of the receptors like transferrin, peptide hormones, insulin.

There is receptor-mediated endocytosis. When an agonist binds to the receptor, the receptor becomes clus­tered in specialized depressions in the cell membrane called coated pits.

The inner membrane surface of the coated pit has an electron-dense coating made up of a protein called clathrin that is detectable by electron microscope. These coated pits (half-life of about 1 minute) then pinches off from the cell surface to form coated vesicles.

Coated vesicles then get uncoated by shedding off their clathrin coats which is due to the effect of clathrin-depolymerizing enzyme. Then they fuse with one another to form larger vesicles called endosomes (receptosomes).

Endosomes are uncoated vesicles (average diameter of 0.5 μm) and maintains a pH of 5.5 within it by an ATP-dependent proton pump. Some endosomes are recycled for cell surface receptor after fusion with the Golgi system and others are degraded in lysosome. For example, LDL receptor can go through 150 such cycles without losing its function. Transferrin receptor and iron are recycled. On the contrary, both epidermal growth factor and its receptor are degraded within the acidic endosome.

Clathrin-mediated endocytosis of virus by host
Clathrin-mediated endocytosis of virus by host | Source

The loss in response has been most commonly termed desensitization. When this loss in response is very rapid, then it is termed tachyphylaxis. Nicotinic cho­linergic receptor undergoes very rapid desensitization (within 1 second), whereas G protein or tyrosine coupled receptor desensitizes over many seconds to min­utes or even hours.

Three ways to stop receptors from working
Three ways to stop receptors from working | Source

G proteins

A number of receptors in the plasma membrane regulate distinct effector pro­teins through mediation of a group of GTP (guanosine triphosphate) binding pro­teins known as G proteins.

The activity of this regulatory protein depends on the presence of GTP and magnesium.

G protein acts as an intermediate between receptor and enzyme (an effector).

G protein is located on the inner surface of the plasma membrane. It has subunits designated as α, β and γ.

The G proteins have three domains: guanine nucleotide binding domain, domain for interaction with receptor and effector.

G protein coupled receptor cascade
G protein coupled receptor cascade | Source


There are several types of Gα proteins- Gαs , Gαi, Gαo , Gαq , Gαt and more.

s(s for stimulatory) stimulates adenylyl cyclase after being activated by an agonist. The same G protein also activates calcium channel.

i (i for inhibitory) inhibits the adenylyl cyclase activi­ties and activates potassium channel.

o inhibits calcium channel whereas Gαq activates phospholipase C.

t designating transducin, mediates rhodopsin activa­tion of cyclic GMP phosphodiesterase.

Several G proteins may be present in a single cell. Each of these may respond to several different receptors and regulate several different effectors. One recep­tor can also regulate more than one G protein.

Function of G alpha proteins

G alpha protein
Inhibits adenylyl cyclase, Activates potassium channel
Inhibits calcium channel
Activates phospholipase C
Stimulates adenylyl cyclase present in eye
Activates adenylyl cyclase, Activates calcium channel
Mechanism of action of G-protein coupled receptors
Mechanism of action of G-protein coupled receptors


In resting (inactive) state of G protein, GDP (guanosine diphosphate) is tightly bound to the α subunit. But when an agonist is bound to G protein-coupled receptor then the GDP bound to the α subunit gets replaced by GTP.

This α-GTP is then dissociated from the β and γ subunits and subsequently interact with the membrane bound effector(such as adenylyl cyclase). The GTPase activity of the α subunit increases on binding, leading to hydrolysis of the bound GTP to GDP which allows the α subunit to recombine with the βγ complex.

Second messenger system

When first messenger (ligand) binds with its specific receptor, the drug-receptor complex is formed which subsequently causes the synthesis and release of another intra­cellular regulatory molecule called second messenger. These are:

  • Adenosine 3’-5' monophosphate (cyclic AMP; cAMP)
  • Calcium
  • Guanosine 3‘-5' monophosphate (cyclic GMP; cGMP)
  • Inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate (IP3)
  • Diacylglycerol (DAG)
  • Calmodulin (CaM).

Overview of second messengers
Overview of second messengers | Source
Signal amplification in second messenger system
Signal amplification in second messenger system | Source


The first recognized second messenger cAMP is synthesized by the plasma mem­brane attached enzyme adenylyl cyclase in response to activation of many recep­tors such as β-adrenergic receptors. The function of activated adenylyl cyclase is to convert ATP into cAMP.

Binding of the agonist to α2-adrenergic receptors, M2 receptors leads to inhibition of cAMP formation within the cell.

Normally cAMP is hydrolysed within the cell by an enzyme phosphodiesterase which is inhibited by drugs like caffeine, theophylline. So, there is increased intra­cellular concentration of cAMP following ingestion of drugs containing caffeine and theophylline and thus more activity.

Adenylyl cyclase can also be activated directly (by-passing the receptor) by some drugs like forskolin and fluoride ions.

Subunits of all types of Protein Kinase
Subunits of all types of Protein Kinase | Source

cAMP acts exclusively through cAMP-dependent protein kinase (A-kinase) to phosphorylate enzymes and proteins involved in cell function.

A-kinase is com­posed of two regulatory (R) and two catalytic (C) subunits. When cAMP binds to the regulatory subunits, there is dissociation of the regulatory subunits with resultant activation of the catalytic subunits. There is transfer of phosphate (phos­phorylation) from ATP to various cellular proteins.

cAMP mediates the responses such as the rate and contraction force of heart muscle, the relaxation of smooth muscle, the breakdown of carbohydrates in liver, the breakdown of triglycerides in fat cells, calcium homeostasis and many other endocrine and neural processes.

Mechanism of action of cyclic amp (cAMP)
Mechanism of action of cyclic amp (cAMP) | Source
Calcium is a very important second messenger
Calcium is a very important second messenger | Source

CALCIUM as second messenger

Intracellular calcium plays an important role in the function of most of the cells.

Intracellular calcium is present in both free and bound forms. It is the free form that is responsible for the cell function. There is a great variation in the concen­tration of free calcium in extra and intracellular compartment. Recently, great achievement has been obtained to measure intracellular free calcium concentra­tion before, during and after stimulation by a drug in intact cell using the fluorescent dye Quin 2 or Fura 2.

The concentration of free calcium outside the cell is in millimolar range whereas in resting state the intracellular free calcium concentration is around 100 nanomolar, i.e. its concentration is 10,000 times less in the intracellular compartment. When the cells are stimulated by a full agonist, intracellular free calcium concentration increases rapidly, i.e. the concentration of free calcium will be increased from 100 nanomolar to about 500 nanomolar. This increased free cal­cium concentration is responsible for the effect. The bound form of calcium is present in millimolar concentration in the inner face of the plasma membrane, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, and secretory granules.

Calcium as a second messenger
Calcium as a second messenger | Source
cGMP | Source

cGMP as second messenger

The second messenger cGMP is produced from the GTP by an enzyme guanylyl cyclase which is present in the inner phase of the plasma membrane.

The guanylyl cyclase is activated when muscarinic receptor is occupied by its agonist. This cGMP then activates the intracellular cGMP-dependent protein kinase (G-kinase). The subsequent G-kinase mediated effect is not yet known.

cGMP 2nd messenger pathway
cGMP 2nd messenger pathway | Source
IP3 - a second messenger - releases intracellular  calcium - another second messenger!
IP3 - a second messenger - releases intracellular calcium - another second messenger! | Source

INOSITOL 1,4,5 PHOSPHATE (IP3) as second messenger

Recently IP3 has been well accepted as a second messenger. It is the hydrolytic product of phosphatidylinositol (PI). PI is the minor phospholipid of the cell mem­brane. Phosphorylation of PI causes the formation of phosphatidylinositol mono­phosphate (PIP) which is later converted to phosphatidylinositol 4,5-biphosphate (PIP2). The activation of enzyme phospholipase C (a membrane-bound enzyme) causes the hydrolysis of phosphatidylinositol 4,5-biphosphate (PIP2) and there is formation of water soluble Inositol 1,4,5 phosphate (IP3) and Diacylglycerol (DAG). This IP3 is released into the cytoplasm and stimulates the release of calcium from endoplasmic reticulum. So, IP3 in­creases the intracellular free calcium concentration which ultimately involves in producing the effect. This IP3 is then dephosphorylated to inositol 1,4 phosphate (IP2), inositol 1 phosphate (IP), inositol and finally to phosphatidylinositol.

The antipsychotic drug lithium causes depletion of membrane PI and accumula­tion of intracellular IP by inhibiting the hydrolysis of IP to inositol.

IP3 as second messenger
IP3 as second messenger | Source
DAG as second messenger
DAG as second messenger | Source

DIACYLGLYCEROL as second messenger

Another second messenger diacylglycerol (DAG) is produced in the cell membrane from the metabolic product of PIP2. This DAG activates directly the intracellularly located protein kinase C (C- kinase). DAG is phosphorylated to form phosphatidic acid coupled with IP to form PI.

CALMODULIN as second messenger

Calmodulin (CaM) is a single peptide chain containing 148 amino acid residues and is considered as the receptor for intracellular free calcium. It has four bind­ing sites. Three or four of these need to be occupied by calcium before CaM will activate myosin light chain kinase (MLCK). One molecule of calcium-CaM in­teract with one of MLCK and without this interaction MLCK is inactive. While phosphorylated, myosin forms cross bridges with actin and sliding of actin over myosin filaments occur. This sliding effect produces contraction of muscle.

Calmodulin as second messenger
Calmodulin as second messenger | Source

Did you like this article?

See results

If you have any suggestion or want me to write about a particular topic then just send me a request!

That's all for today! Read my other article on receptors (links are given at top of this article) and keep visiting ePharmacology!

© 2015 epharmacology


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    Click to Rate This Article