Fluorescent ligands for GPCRs (G-protein-coupled receptors) have been synthesized for a long time but their use was usually restricted to receptor localization in the cell by fluorescent imaging microscopy. During the last two decades, the emergence of new fluorescence-based strategies and the concomitant development of fluorescent measurement apparatus have dramatically widened the use of fluorescent ligands. Among the various strategies, TR (time-resolved)-FRET (fluorescence resonance energy transfer) approaches exhibit an interesting potential to study GPCR interactions with various partners. We have derived various sets of ligands that target different GPCRs with fluorophores, which are compatible with TR-FRET strategies. Fluorescent ligands labelled either with a fluorescent donor (such as europium or terbium cryptate) or with a fluorescent acceptor (such as fluorescein, dy647 or Alexa Fluor® 647), for example, kept high affinities for their cognate receptors. These ligands turn out to be interesting tools to develop FRET-based binding assays. We also used these fluorescent ligands to analyse GPCR oligomerization by measuring FRET between ligands bound to receptor dimers. In contrast with FRET strategies, on the basis of receptor labelling, the ligand-based approach we developed is fully compatible with the study of wild-type receptors and therefore with receptors expressed in native tissues. Therefore, by using fluorescent analogues of oxytocin, we demonstrated the existence of oxytocin receptor dimers in the mammary gland of lactating rats.

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