Chemokines are a family of small basic proteins which induce the directed migration of cells, notably leucocytes, by binding to specific GPCRs (G-protein-coupled receptors). Both chemokines and their receptors have been implicated in a host of clinically important diseases, leading to the notion that antagonism of the chemokine–chemokine receptor network may be therapeutically advantageous. Consequently, considerable effort has been put into the development of small-molecule antagonists of chemokine receptors and several such compounds have been described in the literature. One curious by-product of this activity has been the description of several small-molecule agonists of the receptors, which are typically discovered following the optimization of lead antagonists. In this review we discuss these findings and conclude that these small-molecule agonists might be exploited to further our understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which chemokine receptors are activated.

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