The sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) receptor signaling system is a productive model system. A hydrophobic zwitterionic lysophospholipid ligand with difficult physical properties interacts with five high-affinity G protein–coupled receptors to generate multiple downstream signals. These signals modulate homeostasis and pathology on a steep agonist concentration-response curve. Ligand presence is essential for vascular development and endothelial integrity, while acute increases in ligand concentrations result in cardiac death. Understanding this integrated biochemical system has exemplified the impact of both genetics and chemistry. Developing specific tools with defined biochemical properties for the reversible modulation of signals in real time has been essential to complement insights gained from genetic approaches that may be irreversible and compensated. Despite its knife-edge between life and death, this system, based in part on receptor subtype-selectivity and in part on differential attenuation of deleterious signals, now appears to be on the cusp of meaningful therapy for multiple sclerosis.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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