The structural features determining efficient biosynthesis, stability in the membrane and, after solubilization, in detergents are not well understood for integral membrane proteins such as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). Starting from the rat neurotensin receptor 1, a class A GPCR, we generated a separate library comprising all 64 codons for each amino acid position. By combining a previously developed FACS-based selection system for functional expression [Sarkar C, et al. (2009) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105:14808-14813] with ultradeep 454 sequencing, we determined the amino acid preference in every position and identified several positions in the natural sequence that restrict functional expression. A strong accumulation of shifts, i.e., a residue preference different from wild type, is detected for helix 1, suggesting a key role in receptor biosynthesis. Furthermore, under selective pressure we observe a shift of the most conserved residues of the N-terminal helices. This unique data set allows us to compare the in vitro evolution of a GPCR to the natural evolution of the GPCR family and to observe how selective pressure shapes the sequence space covered by functional molecules. Under the applied selective pressure, several positions shift away from the wild-type sequence, and these improve the biophysical properties. We discuss possible structural reasons for conserved and shifted residues.