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We recently published “Measuring ligand efficacy at the mu-opioid receptor using a conformational biosensor” in eLife.

The intrinsic efficacy of orthosteric ligands acting at G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) reflects their ability to stabilize active receptor states (R) and is a major determinant of their physiological effects. Here, we present a direct way to quantify the efficacy of ligands by measuring the binding of a R-specific biosensor to purified receptor employing interferometry. As an example, we use the mu-opioid receptor (µ-OR), a prototypic class A GPCR, and its active state sensor, nanobody-39 (Nb39). We demonstrate that ligands vary in their ability to recruit Nb39 to µ-OR and describe methadone, loperamide, and PZM21 as ligands that support unique R* conformation(s) of µ-OR. We further show that positive allosteric modulators of µ-OR promote formation of R* in addition to enhancing promotion by orthosteric agonists. Finally, we demonstrate that the technique can be utilized with heterotrimeric G protein. The method is cell-free, signal transduction-independent and is generally applicable to GPCRs.