The large and functionally diverse group of G-protein-coupled receptors includes receptors for many different signalling molecules, including peptide and non-peptide hormones and neurotransmitters, chemokines, prostanoids and proteinases. Their principal function is to transmit information about the extracellular environment to the interior of the cell by interacting with the heterotrimeric G-proteins, and they thereby participate in many aspects of regulation. Cellular responses to agonists of these receptors are usually rapidly attenuated. Mechanisms of signal attenuation include removal of agonists from the extracellular fluid, receptor desensitization, endocytosis and down-regulation. Agonists are removed by dilution, uptake by transporters and enzymic degradation. Receptor desensitization is mediated by receptor phosphorylation by G-protein receptor kinases and second-messenger kinases, interaction of phosphorylated receptors with arrestins and receptor uncoupling from G-proteins. Agonist-induced receptor endocytosis also contributes to desensitization by depleting the cell surface of high-affinity receptors, and recycling of internalized receptors contributes to resensitization of cellular responses. Receptor down-regulation is a form of desensitization that occurs during continuous, long-term exposure of cells to receptor agonists. Down-regulation, which may occur during the development of drug tolerance, is characterized by depletion of the cellular receptor content, and is probably mediated by alterations in the rates of receptor degradation and synthesis. These regulatory mechanisms are important, as they govern the ability of cells to respond to agonists. A greater understanding of the mechanisms that modulate signalling may lead to the development of new therapies and may help to explain the mechanism of drug tolerance.

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