Steroid hormones cause changes within a cell by first passing through the cell membrane of the target cell. Steroid hormones, unlike non-steroid hormones, can do this because they are fat-soluble. Cell membranes are composed of a phospholipid bilayer which prevents fat-insoluble molecules from diffusing into the cell.
G-protein-linked receptors form the largest family of cell-surface receptors and are found in all eucaryotes. About 5% of the genes in the nematode C. elegans, for example, encode such receptors, and thousands have already been defined in mammals; in mice, there are about 1000 concerned with the sense of smell alone. G-protein-linked receptors mediate the responses to an enormous diversity of signal molecules, including hormones, neurotransmitters, and local mediators.
These signal molecules that activate them are as varied in structure as they are in function: the list includes proteins and small peptides, as well as derivatives of amino acids and fatty acids. The same ligand can activate many different receptor family members; at least 9 distinct G-protein-linked receptors are activated by adrenaline, for example, another 5 or more by acetylcholine, and at least 15 by the neurotransmitter serotonin.