The vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) is a neuropeptide with wide distribution in both central and peripheral nervous systems, where it plays important regulatory role in many physiological processes. VIP displays a large biological functions including regulation of exocrine secretions, hormone release, fetal development, immune responses, etc. VIP appears to exert beneficial effect in neuro-degenerative and inflammatory diseases. The mechanism of action of VIP implicates two subtypes of receptors (VPAC1 and VPAC2), which are members of class B receptors belonging to the super-family of GPCR. This article reviews the current knowledge regarding the structure and molecular pharmacology of VPAC receptors. The structure–function relationship of VPAC1 receptor has been extensively studied, allowing to understand the molecular basis for receptor affinity, specificity, desensitization and coupling to adenylyl cyclase. Those studies have clearly demonstrated the crucial role of the N-terminal ectodomain (N-ted) of VPAC1 receptor in VIP recognition. By using different approaches including directed mutagenesis, photoaffinity labelling, NMR, molecular modelling and molecular dynamic simulation, it has been shown that the VIP molecule interacts with the N-ted of VPAC1 receptor, which is itself structured as a ‘Sushi’ domain. VPAC1 receptor also interacts with a few accessory proteins that play a role in cell signalling of receptors. Recent advances in the structural characterization of VPAC receptor and more generally of class B GPCRs will lead to the design of new molecules, which could have considerable interest for the treatment of inflammatory and neuro-degenerative diseases.
LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed section on Secretin Family (Class B) G Protein-Coupled Receptors. To view the other articles in this section visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2012.166.issue-1