In pharmacology, an inverse agonist is a drug that binds to the same receptor as an agonist but induces a pharmacological response opposite to that of the agonist.
A neutral antagonist has no activity in the absence of an agonist or inverse agonist but can block the activity of either. Inverse agonists have opposite actions to those of agonists but the effects of both of these can be blocked by antagonists.
A prerequisite for an inverse agonist response is that the receptor must have a constitutive (also known as intrinsic or basal) level of activity in the absence of any ligand. An agonist increases the activity of a receptor above its basal level, whereas an inverse agonist decreases the activity below the basal level.
The efficacy of a full agonist is by definition 100%, a neutral antagonist has 0% efficacy, and an inverse agonist has < 0% (i.e., negative) efficacy.
Receptors for which inverse agonists have been identified include the GABAA, melanocortin, mu opioid, histamine and beta adrenergic receptors. Both endogenous and exogenous inverse agonists have been identified, as have drugs at ligand gated ion channels and at G protein-coupled receptors.
An example of a receptor site that possesses basal activity and for which inverse agonists have been identified is the GABAA receptors. Agonists for GABAA receptors (such as muscimol) create a relaxant effect, whereas inverse agonists have agitation effects (for example, Ro15-4513) or even convulsive and anxiogenic effects (certain beta-carbolines).
Two known endogenous inverse agonists are the Agouti-related peptide (AgRP) and its associated peptide Agouti signalling peptide (ASIP). AgRP and ASIP appear naturally in humans and bind melanocortin receptors 4 and 1 (Mc4R and Mc1R), respectively, with nanomolar affinities.
The opioid antagonists naloxone and naltrexone are also partial agonists at mu opioid receptors.
Nearly all antihistamines acting at H1 receptors and H2 receptors have been shown to be inverse agonists.
The beta blockers carvedilol and bucindolol have been shown to be low level inverse agonists at beta adrenoceptors.