Scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Intramural Research Program (IRP) have uncovered evidence that shows a more complex and elaborate role for the body’s hard-working G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) than previously thought, suggesting a conceptual advance in the fields of biochemistry and pharmacology. With more than 800 members in the human genome, GPCRs are the largest family of proteins involved in decoding signals as they come into the cell and then adapt the cell’s function in response. NIDA is part of the National Institutes of Health.
Manipulating how cells respond to signals is key to developing new medications. Although pharmacologists have studied GPCRs for many years, there is still a debate on how they operate — are they isolated units that randomly collide with each other or are they deliberately coupled together to receive signals? The NIDA scientists conclude that GPCRs form part of very elaborate pre-coupled macromolecular complexes. Simply put, they act as little computing devices that optimally gather and process information coming into the cell, allowing the cells to adapt and change their function.