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Concept: Agonist


The dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) is involved in food reward and compulsive food intake. The present study developed a virtual screening (VS) method to identify food components, which may modulate D2R signalling. In contrast to their common applications in drug discovery, VS methods are rarely applied for the discovery of bioactive food compounds. Here, databases were created that exclusively contain substances occurring in food and natural sources (about 13,000 different compounds in total) as the basis for combined pharmacophore searching, hit-list clustering and molecular docking into D2R homology models. From 17 compounds finally tested in radioligand assays to determine their binding affinities, seven were classified as hits (hit rate = 41%). Functional properties of the five most active compounds were further examined in β-arrestin recruitment and cAMP inhibition experiments. D2R-promoted G-protein activation was observed for hordenine, a constituent of barley and beer, with approximately identical ligand efficacy as dopamine (76%) and a Ki value of 13 μM. Moreover, hordenine antagonised D2-mediated β-arrestin recruitment indicating functional selectivity. Application of our databases provides new perspectives for the discovery of bioactive food constituents using VS methods. Based on its presence in beer, we suggest that hordenine significantly contributes to mood-elevating effects of beer.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Signal transduction, Receptor antagonist, Dopamine receptor, Agonist, Schizophrenia, Dopamine receptor D2, Adenosine A2A receptor


Both kynurenic acid and 2-acyl lysophosphatidic acid have been postulated to be the endogenous agonists of GPR35. However, controversy remains whether alternative endogenous agonists exist. The molecular targets accounted for many nongenomic actions of thyroid hormones are mostly unknown. Here we report the agonist activity of multiple tyrosine metabolites at the GPR35. Tyrosine metabolism intermediates that contain carboxylic acid and/or catechol functional groups were first selected. Whole cell dynamic mass redistribution (DMR) assays enabled by label-free optical biosensor were then used to characterize their agonist activity in native HT-29. Molecular assays including β-arrestin translocation, ERK phosphorylation and receptor internalization confirmed that GPR35 functions as a receptor for 5,6-dihydroxyindole-2-carboxylic acid, 3,3',5'-triiodothyronine, 3,3',5-triiodothyronine, gentisate, rosmarinate, and 3-nitrotyrosine. These results suggest that multiple tyrosine metabolites are alternative endogenous ligands of GPR35, and GPR35 may represent a druggable target for treating certain diseases associated with abnormality of tyrosine metabolism.

Concepts: Protein, Amino acid, Signal transduction, Metabolism, Hormone, Thyroid, Agonist, Tyrosine


The drug 4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC; aka, mephedrone, MMCAT, “plant food”, “bath salts”) is a recent addition to the list of popular recreational psychomotor-stimulant compounds. Relatively little information about this drug is available in the scientific literature, but popular media reports have driven recent drug control actions in the UK and several US States. Online user reports of subjective similarity to 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, “Ecstasy”) prompted the current investigation of the thermoregulatory and locomotor effects of 4-MMC. Male Wistar and Sprague-Dawley rats were monitored after subcutaneous administration of 4-MMC (1-10 mg/kg ) using an implantable radiotelemetry system under conditions of low (23°C) and high (27°C) ambient temperature. A reliable reduction of body temperature was produced by 4-MMC in Wistar rats at 23°C or 27°C with only minimal effect in Sprague-Dawley rats. Increased locomotor activity was observed after 4-MMC administration in both strains with significantly more activity produced in the Sprague-Dawley strain. The 10 mg/kg s.c. dose evoked greater increase in extracellular serotonin, compared with dopamine, in the nucleus accumbens. Follow-up studies confirmed that the degree of locomotor stimulation produced by 10 mg/kg 4-MMC was nearly identical to that produced by 1 mg/kg d-methamphetamine in each strain. Furthermore, hypothermia produced by the serotonin 1(A/7) receptor agonist 8-hydroxy-N,N-dipropyl-2-aminotetralin (8-OH-DPAT) was similar in each strain. These results show that the cathinone analog 4-MMC exhibits thermoregulatory and locomotor properties that are distinct from those established for methamphetamine or MDMA in prior work, despite recent evidence of neuropharmacological similarity with MDMA.

Concepts: Serotonin, Agonist, Dopamine, Amphetamine, Methamphetamine, MDMA, Designer drug, Mephedrone


Angiotensin-(1-7) [Ang-(1-7)] is a biologically active heptapeptide that may counterbalance the physiological actions of angiotensin II (Ang II) within the renin-angiotensin system (RAS). Here, we evaluated whether activation of the Mas receptor with the oral agonist, AVE 0991, would have renoprotective effects in a model of adriamycin (ADR)-induced nephropathy. We also evaluated whether the Mas receptor contributed for the protective effects of treatment with AT1 receptor blockers. ADR (10 mg/kg) induced significant renal injury and dysfunction that was maximal at day 14 after injection. Treatment with the Mas receptor agonist AVE 0991 improved renal function parameters, reduced urinary protein loss and attenuated histological changes. Renoprotection was associated with reduction in urinary levels of TGF-β. Similar renoprotection was observed after treatment with the AT1 receptor antagonist, Losartan. AT1 and Mas receptor mRNA levels dropped after ADR administration and treatment with losartan reestablished the expression of Mas receptor and increased the expression of ACE2. ADR-induced nephropathy was similar in wild type (Mas(+/+) ) and Mas knockout (Mas (-/-)) mice, suggesting there was no endogenous role for Mas receptor activation. However, treatment with Losartan was able to reduce renal injury only in Mas(+/+) , but not in Mas (-/-) mice. Therefore, these findings suggest that exogenous activation of the Mas receptor protects from ADR-induced nephropathy and contributes to the beneficial effects of AT1 receptor blockade. Medications which target specifically the ACE2/Ang-(1-7)/Mas axis may offer new therapeutic opportunities to treat human nephropathies.

Concepts: Physiology, Receptor antagonist, Agonist, Angiotensin, Renin-angiotensin system, Inverse agonist, Receptor theory, Angiotensin receptor


Pain places a devastating burden on patients and society and current pain therapeutics exhibit limitations in efficacy, unwanted side effects and the potential for drug abuse and diversion. Although genetic evidence has clearly demonstrated that the voltage-gated sodium channel, Nav1.7, is critical to pain sensation in mammals, pharmacological inhibitors of Nav1.7 have not yet fully recapitulated the dramatic analgesia observed in Nav1.7-null subjects. Using the tarantula venom-peptide ProTX-II as a scaffold, we engineered a library of over 1500 venom-derived peptides and identified JNJ63955918 as a potent, highly selective, closed-state Nav1.7 blocking peptide. Here we show that JNJ63955918 induces a pharmacological insensitivity to pain that closely recapitulates key features of the Nav1.7-null phenotype seen in mice and humans. Our findings demonstrate that a high degree of selectivity, coupled with a closed-state dependent mechanism of action is required for strong efficacy and indicate that peptides such as JNJ63955918 and other suitably optimized Nav1.7 inhibitors may represent viable non-opioid alternatives for the pharmacological treatment of severe pain.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Action potential, Pain, Enzyme inhibitor, Sodium, Agonist, Morphine, Erythromelalgia


5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, also known as serotonin) regulates many physiological processes through the 5-HT receptor family. Here we report the crystal structure of 5-HT1B subtype receptor (5-HT1BR) bound to the psychotropic serotonin receptor inverse agonist methiothepin (MT). Crystallization was facilitated by replacing ICL3 with a novel optimized variant of BRIL (OB1) that enhances the formation of intermolecular polar interactions, making OB1 a potential useful tool for structural studies of membrane proteins. Unlike the agonist ergotamine (ERG), MT occupies only the conserved orthosteric binding pocket, explaining the wide spectrum effect of MT on serotonin receptors. Compared with ERG, MT shifts toward TM6 and sterically pushes residues W3276.48, F3306.50 and F3316.51 from inside the orthosteric binding pocket, leading to an outward movement of the extracellular end and a corresponding inward shift of the intracellular end of TM6, a feature shared by other reported inactive G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) structures. Together with the previous agonist-bound serotonin receptor structures, the inverse agonist-bound 5-HT1BR structure identifies a basis for the ligand-mediated switch of 5-HT1BR activity and provides a structural understanding of the inactivation mechanism of 5-HT1BR and some other class A GPCRs, characterized by ligand-induced outward movement of the extracellular end of TM6 that is coupled with inward movement of the cytoplasmic end of this helix.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Cell membrane, Receptor, Serotonin, Agonist, 5-HT receptor, 5-HT2C receptor, 5-HT1B receptor


Repeated episodes of binge-like alcohol consumption produce anxiety, depression and various deleterious effects including alterations in neurogenesis. While the involvement of the serotonin receptor 1 A (5-HT1A) in the regulation of anxiety-like behavior and neurogenesis is well documented, its contribution to alcohol withdrawal-induced anxiety and alcohol-induced deficits in neurogenesis is less documented. Using the Drinking-In-the-Dark (DID) paradigm to model chronic long-term (12 weeks) binge-like voluntary alcohol consumption in mice, we show that the selective partial activation of 5-HT1A receptors by tandospirone (3 mg/kg) prevents alcohol withdrawal-induced anxiety in a battery of behavioral tests (marble burying, elevated-plus-maze, open-field), which is accompanied by a robust decrease in binge-like ethanol intake (1 and 3 mg/kg). Furthermore, using triple immunolabelling of proliferation and neuronal differentiation markers, we show that long-term DID elicits profound deficits in neurogenesis and neuronal fate specification in the dorsal hippocampus that are entirely reversed by a 2-week chronic treatment with the 5-HT1A partial agonist tandospirone (3 mg/kg/day). Together, our results confirm previous observations that 5-HT1A receptors play a pivotal role in alcohol drinking behavior and the associated emotional and neurogenic impairments, and suggest that 5-HT1A partial agonists represent a promising treatment strategy for alcohol abuse.

Concepts: Psychology, Receptor antagonist, Serotonin, Agonist, Inverse agonist, Functional selectivity, 5-HT receptor, Buspirone


Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are man-made compounds interfering with hormone signaling and thereby adversely affecting human health. Recent reports provide evidence for the presence of EDCs in commercially available bottled water, including steroid receptor agonists and antagonists. However, since these findings are based on biological data the causative chemicals remain unidentified and, therefore, inaccessible for toxicological evaluation. Thus, the aim of this study is to assess the antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic activity of bottled water and to identify the causative steroid receptor antagonists. We evaluated the antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic activity of 18 bottled water products in reporter gene assays for human estrogen receptor alpha and androgen receptor. Using nontarget high-resolution mass spectrometry (LTQ-Orbitrap Velos), we acquired corresponding analytical data. We combined the biological and chemical information to determine the exact mass of the tentative steroid receptor antagonist. Further MS(n) experiments elucidated the molecule’s structure and enabled its identification. We detected significant antiestrogenicity in 13 of 18 products. 16 samples were antiandrogenic inhibiting the androgen receptor by up to 90%. Nontarget chemical analysis revealed that out of 24520 candidates present in bottled water one was consistently correlated with the antagonistic activity. By combining experimental and in silico MS(n) data we identified this compound as di(2-ethylhexyl) fumarate (DEHF). We confirmed the identity and biological activity of DEHF and additional isomers of dioctyl fumarate and maleate using authentic standards. Since DEHF is antiestrogenic but not antiandrogenic we conclude that additional, yet unidentified EDCs must contribute to the antagonistic effect of bottled water. Applying a novel approach to combine biological and chemical analysis this is the first study to identify so far unknown EDCs in bottled water. Notably, dioctyl fumarates and maleates have been overlooked by science and regulation to date. This illustrates the need to identify novel toxicologically relevant compounds to establish a more holistic picture of the human exposome.

Concepts: Receptor, Chemistry, Receptor antagonist, Agonist, Nuclear receptor, Inverse agonist, Buprenorphine, Endocrine system


The prototypical hallucinogen LSD acts via serotonin receptors, and here we describe the crystal structure of LSD in complex with the human serotonin receptor 5-HT2B. The complex reveals conformational rearrangements to accommodate LSD, providing a structural explanation for the conformational selectivity of LSD’s key diethylamide moiety. LSD dissociates exceptionally slow from both 5-HT2BR and 5-HT2AR-a major target for its psychoactivity. Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations suggest that LSD’s slow binding kinetics may be due to a “lid” formed by extracellular loop 2 (EL2) at the entrance to the binding pocket. A mutation predicted to increase the mobility of this lid greatly accelerates LSD’s binding kinetics and selectively dampens LSD-mediated β-arrestin2 recruitment. This study thus reveals an unexpected binding mode of LSD; illuminates key features of its kinetics, stereochemistry, and signaling; and provides a molecular explanation for LSD’s actions at human serotonin receptors. PAPERCLIP.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Receptor, Serotonin, Agonist, 5-HT receptor, 5-HT2C receptor, 5-HT1A receptor, 5-HT2B receptor


Current therapies for reducing raised intracranial pressure (ICP) under conditions such as idiopathic intracranial hypertension or hydrocephalus have limited efficacy and tolerability. Thus, there is a pressing need to identify alternative drugs. Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (GLP-1R) agonists are used to treat diabetes and promote weight loss but have also been shown to affect fluid homeostasis in the kidney. We investigated whether exendin-4, a GLP-1R agonist, is able to modulate cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) secretion at the choroid plexus and subsequently reduce ICP in rats. We used tissue sections and cell cultures to demonstrate expression of GLP-1R in the choroid plexus and its activation by exendin-4, an effect blocked by the GLP-1R antagonist exendin 9-39. Acute treatment with exendin-4 reduced Na(+)- and K(+)-dependent adenosine triphosphatase activity, a key regulator of CSF secretion, in cell cultures. Finally, we demonstrated that administration of exendin-4 to female rats with raised ICP (hydrocephalic) resulted in a GLP-1R-mediated reduction in ICP. These findings suggest that GLP-1R agonists can reduce ICP in rodents. Repurposing existing GLP-1R agonist drugs may be a useful therapeutic strategy for treating raised ICP.

Concepts: Adenosine triphosphate, Intracranial pressure, Receptor antagonist, Agonist, Cerebrospinal fluid, Hydrocephalus, Inverse agonist, Meningitis