What is pharmacodynamics?

Pharmacodynamics is the study of the effects of a drug in the body. This includes the analysis of its mechanism of action and the ratio between the dose and its biochemical and physiological effects.

The term pharmacodynamics has its origin in two words of Greek origin: pharmackon (drug, drug) and dynamis (force).

To understand the object of study of pharmacodynamics, it is essential to know the concept of receptor or target: it is the cellular structure with which the drug will interact selectively, so that it can fulfill its function in the body.

In other words, receptors are macromolecules with specific functions that, together with the drug, will generate some of these responses in the body:

  • Changes in enzyme activity. For example: drugs to control insulin levels.
  • Modifications in ion channels. For example: local action anesthetics.
  • Modifications in the structure or in the production of proteins. For example: drug treatments with estrogens.

The discovery of the receptors is a contribution of the British pharmacologist Jhon Newport Langley, who at the end of the 19th century raised the existence of certain structures within the cell that bind with drugs.

See also Drug.

Mechanisms of action of drugs

Mechanism of action (MA) is understood to be all the manifestations or reactions that a drug generates in the body. In this sense, the mechanisms of action depend on various factors related to drug-receptor binding, such as:


One of the doubts of the general population regarding the use of drugs is how a drug can work in a specific place in the body without affecting others that may not require that medication. The answer is in selectivity.

Selectivity is the ability of a drug to bind only to specific receptors. The narrower the spectrum of receptors to which it can bind, the greater selectivity and therefore the more specific the pharmacological effect will be.


It is the level of attraction that exists between the receptor and the drug, that is, their ability to form a stable union. The higher the affinity, the greater the probability that the drug will produce the desired effect.


Reversibility is understood as the ability of a drug to separate from its receptor. This characteristic is linked to affinity. The higher the affinity, the lower the reversibility and, therefore, the effect of the drug will last longer.

Intrinsic activity

It is the ability of a drug-receptor binding to produce the desired effect.


It is the amount of drug that is required to achieve a desired effect. This amount is expressed in milligrams (mg) and is known as a dose.


It is the maximum level of therapeutic response that a drug can offer. That is, it is a measure to know what is the greatest desired effect that a drug can provide.

See also Medication.

Pharmacological action and pharmacological effect

Pharmacodynamics studies both the action and the effect of drugs in order to create more effective drugs or safer doses, with a lower incidence of side effects.

Pharmacological action

Pharmacological action is the changes or modifications produced by the drug in the body at submolecular, molecular, cellular or biochemical levels.

An example of pharmacological action is the changes in thermoregulatory functions produced by drugs designed to fight fever, known as antipyretics.

Pharmacological effect

For its part, the pharmacological effect is the visible effects of the pharmacological action.

An example of a pharmacological effect of fever medicine would be a decrease in body temperature.

In turn, the pharmacological effects can be of several types:

  • Primary effect: these are the expected effects for that drug.
  • Placebo effect: these are effects that are not related to the drug.
  • Collateral effect: these are effects generated by the desired manifestations of the drug (primary effect)
  • Toxic effect: these are effects produced by an excess of the recommended dose of the drug.
  • Lethal effect: these are biological manifestations produced by the drug that can lead to the death of the patient.

See also Pharmacology.

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