Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A novel chemogenomics analysis of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and their ligands: a potential strategy for receptor de-orphanization

Eelke van der Horst1, Julio E Peironcely1, Adriaan P IJzerman1, Margot W Beukers1, Jonathan R Lane1, Herman WT van Vlijmen1, Michael TM Emmerich2, Yasushi Okuno3 and Andreas Bender14*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Medicinal Chemistry, Leiden/Amsterdam Center for Drug Research, Leiden University, Einsteinweg 55, 2333CC, The Netherlands

2 Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science, University of Leiden, The Netherlands

3 Department of PharmacoInformatics, Center for Integrative Education of Pharmacy Frontier, Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan

4 Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

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BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:316  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-316

Published: 10 June 2010



G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) represent a family of well-characterized drug targets with significant therapeutic value. Phylogenetic classifications may help to understand the characteristics of individual GPCRs and their subtypes. Previous phylogenetic classifications were all based on the sequences of receptors, adding only minor information about the ligand binding properties of the receptors. In this work, we compare a sequence-based classification of receptors to a ligand-based classification of the same group of receptors, and evaluate the potential to use sequence relatedness as a predictor for ligand interactions thus aiding the quest for ligands of orphan receptors.


We present a classification of GPCRs that is purely based on their ligands, complementing sequence-based phylogenetic classifications of these receptors. Targets were hierarchically classified into phylogenetic trees, for both sequence space and ligand (substructure) space. The overall organization of the sequence-based tree and substructure-based tree was similar; in particular, the adenosine receptors cluster together as well as most peptide receptor subtypes (e.g. opioid, somatostatin) and adrenoceptor subtypes. In ligand space, the prostanoid and cannabinoid receptors are more distant from the other targets, whereas the tachykinin receptors, the oxytocin receptor, and serotonin receptors are closer to the other targets, which is indicative for ligand promiscuity. In 93% of the receptors studied, de-orphanization of a simulated orphan receptor using the ligands of related receptors performed better than random (AUC > 0.5) and for 35% of receptors de-orphanization performance was good (AUC > 0.7).


We constructed a phylogenetic classification of GPCRs that is solely based on the ligands of these receptors. The similarities and differences with traditional sequence-based classifications were investigated: our ligand-based classification uncovers relationships among GPCRs that are not apparent from the sequence-based classification. This will shed light on potential cross-reactivity of GPCR ligands and will aid the design of new ligands with the desired activity profiles. In addition, we linked the ligand-based classification with a ligand-focused sequence-based classification described in literature and proved the potential of this method for de-orphanization of GPCRs.