The Differences Between the Four Main Actions a Drug Can Have After Binding to a Receptor
These are smaller molecules (including drugs) that are capable of 'ligating' themselves to the receptor protein. This binding initiates a conformational change in the receptor protein leading to a series of biochemical reactions inside the cell (‘signal transduction’), often involving the generation of ‘secondary messengers’ that is eventually translated into a biological response (e.g. muscle contraction, hormone secretion). Although the ligands of interest to prescribers are exogenous compounds (i.e. drugs), receptors in human tissues have evolved to bind endogenous ligands such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and growth factors.
For example, clonidine downregulates alpha 2 receptors; thus, rapid withdrawal of clonidine can cause hypertensive crisis. Chronic therapy with beta-blockers upregulates beta-receptor density; thus, severe hypertension or tachycardia can result from abrupt withdrawal. Receptor upregulation and downregulation affect adaptation to drugs (eg, desensitization, tachyphylaxis, tolerance, acquired resistance, postwithdrawal supersensitivity).The pharmacologic effect is also determined by the duration of time that the drug-receptor complex persists (residence time). The lifetime of the drug-receptor complex is affected by dynamic processes (conformation changes) that control the rate of drug association and dissociation from the target. A longer residence time explains a prolonged pharmacologic effect. Drugs with long residence times include finasteride and darunavir. A longer residence time can be a potential disadvantage when it prolongs a drug's toxicity. For some receptors, transient drug occupancy produces the desired pharmacologic effect, whereas prolonged occupancy causes toxicity. Physiologic functions (eg, contraction, secretion) are usually regulated by multiple receptor-mediated mechanisms, and several steps (eg, receptor-coupling, multiple intracellular 2nd messenger substances) may be interposed between the initial molecular drug–receptor interaction and ultimate tissue or organ response. Thus, several dissimilar drug molecules can often be used to produce the same desired response. Ability to bind to a receptor is influenced by external factors as well as by intracellular regulatory mechanisms. Baseline receptor density and the efficiency of stimulus-response mechanisms vary from tissue to tissue. Drugs, aging, genetic mutations, and disorders can increase (upregulate) or decrease (downregulate) the number and binding affinity of receptors. For example, clonidine downregulates alpha 2 receptors; thus, rapid withdrawal of clonidine can cause hypertensive crisis. Chronic therapy with beta-blockers upregulates beta-receptor density; thus, severe hypertension or tachycardia can result from abrupt withdrawal. Receptor upregulation and downregulation affect adaptation to drugs (eg, desensitization, tachyphylaxis, tolerance, acquired resistance, postwithdrawal supersensitivity).
This will facilitate and strengthen the development of rational drug therapy in clinical practice.
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