The human beta 3-adrenergic receptor (beta 3AR) lacks most of the structural determinants that, in the beta 2AR, contribute to agonist-induced receptor desensitization. To evaluate the effect of these structural differences on the beta 3AR desensitization profile, the human beta 2- and beta 3AR were stably expressed in Chinese hamster fibroblasts (CHW) and murine Ltk- cells (L cells). Incubation of CHW-beta 2 or L-beta 2 cells with 10 microM isoproterenol for 30 min induced a decrease in the maximal agonist-stimulated adenylyl cyclase activity and a cAMP-dependent reduction in the potency of isoproterenol to stimulate the receptor. In addition, this pretreatment impaired the formation of the high affinity heterotrimeric agonist-receptor-guanine nucleotide-binding protein complex and induced the sequestration of approximately 30% of the beta 2AR away from the cell surface. In contrast, similar treatment of CHW-beta 3 and L-beta 3 cells did not affect the maximal receptor-stimulated adenylyl cyclase activity, nor did it induce any significant sequestration of the beta 3AR. In fact, only a modest cAMP-independent decrease in the potency of isoproterenol to stimulate the receptor could be observed after isoproterenol treatment. The rapid desensitization pattern of a chimeric beta 3AR, in which the third cytoplasmic loop and the carboxyl-terminal tail were exchanged with those of the beta 2AR (which include potential phosphorylation sites and other possible molecular determinants of desensitization), was found to be intermediate between those of the two original receptor subtypes. These results demonstrate that (i) the beta 3AR is less prone than the beta 2AR to undergo rapid agonist-promoted desensitization and, (ii) in addition to the phosphorylation sites located in the third cytoplasmic loop and the carboxyl-terminal tail of the beta 2AR, other molecular determinants contribute to short term desensitization.