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Allosteric modulators, that exhibit no intrinsic agonist activity, offer the advantage of spatial and temporal fine-tuning of endogenous agonist activity, allowing the potential for increased selectivity, reduced adverse effects and improved clinical outcomes. Some allosteric ligands can differentially activate and/or modulate distinct signaling pathways arising from the same receptor, phenomena referred to as 'biased agonism' and 'biased modulation'. Emerging evidence for CNS disorders with glutamatergic dysfunction suggests the metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 5 (mGlu) is a promising target. Current mGlu allosteric modulators have largely been classified based on modulation of intracellular calcium (iCa) responses to orthosteric agonists alone. We assessed eight mGlu allosteric modulators previously classified as mGlu PAMs or PAM-agonists representing four distinct chemotypes across multiple measures of receptor activity, to explore their potential for engendering biased agonism and/or modulation. Relative to the reference orthosteric agonist, DHPG, the eight allosteric ligands exhibited distinct biased agonism fingerprints for iCa mobilization, IP accumulation and ERK1/2 phosphorylation in HEK293A cells stably expressing mGlu and in cortical neuron cultures. VU0424465, DPFE and VU0409551 displayed the most disparate biased signaling fingerprints in both HEK293A cells and cortical neurons that may account for the marked differences observed previously for these ligands in vivo. Select mGlu allosteric ligands also showed 'probe dependence' with respect to their cooperativity with different orthosteric agonists, as well as biased modulation for the magnitude of positive cooperativity observed. Unappreciated biased agonism and modulation may contribute to unanticipated effects (both therapeutic and adverse) when translating from recombinant systems to preclinical models. This article is part of the Special Issue entitled 'Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors, 5 years on'.
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