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Concept: Functional selectivity


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


We previously reported the discovery of VU0364572 and VU0357017 as M(1)-selective agonists that appear to activate M(1) through actions at an allosteric site. Previous studies have revealed that chemical scaffolds for many allosteric modulators contain molecular switches that allow discovery of allosteric antagonists and allosteric agonists or positive allosteric modulators (PAMs) based on a single chemical scaffold. Based on this, we initiated a series of studies to develop selective M(1) allosteric antagonists based on the VU0364572 scaffold. Interestingly, two lead antagonists identified in this series, VU0409774 and VU0409775, inhibited ACh-induced Ca(2+) responses at rat M(1-5) receptor subtypes, suggesting they are nonselective muscarinic antagonists. VU0409774 and VU0409775 also completely displaced binding of the nonselective radioligand [(3)H]-NMS at M(1) and M(3) mAChRs with affinities similar to their functional IC(50) values. Finally, Schild analysis revealed that these compounds inhibit M(1) responses through a fully competitive interaction at the orthosteric binding site. This surprising finding prompted further studies to determine whether agonist activity of VU0364572 and VU0357017 may also engage in previously unappreciated actions at the orthosteric site on M(1). Surprisingly, both VU0364572 and VU0357017 completely displaced [(3)H]-NMS binding to the orthosteric site of M(1)-M(5) receptors at high concentrations. Furthermore, evaluation of agonist activity in systems with varying levels of receptor reserve and Furchgott analysis using a cell line expressing M(1) under control of an inducible promotor was consistent with an action of these compounds as weak orthosteric partial agonists of M(1). However, consistent with previous studies suggesting actions at a site that is distinct from the orthosteric binding site, VU0364572 or VU0357017 slowed the rate of [(3)H]-NMS dissociation from CHO-rM(1) membranes. Together, these results suggest that VU0364572 and VU0357017 act as bitopic ligands and that novel antagonists in this series act as competitive orthosteric site antagonists.

Concepts: Allosteric regulation, Pharmacology, Ligand, Receptor antagonist, Agonist, Inverse agonist, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Functional selectivity


Neuropeptide galanin and its three receptors, galanin receptor type 1-galanin receptor type 3, are known to be involved in the regulation of numerous psychological processes, including depression. Studies have suggested that stimulation of galanin receptor type 2 (GalR2) leads to attenuation of the depression-like behavior in animals. However, due to the lack of highly selective galanin subtype specific ligands the involvement of different receptors in depression-like behavior is yet not fully known. In the present study we introduce a novel GalR2 selective agonist and demonstrate its ability to produce actions consistent with theorized GalR2 functions and analogous to that of the anti-depressant, imipramine.

Concepts: Receptor, Cell signaling, Receptor antagonist, Serotonin, Agonist, Functional selectivity, Galanin receptor, Galanin


Dexmedetomidine, a selective alpha 2-adrenoceptor (α2AR) agonist, has provided significant analgesia in neuropathic pain. However, its underlying molecular mechanism has not been fully elucidated. In the present study, we found that intrathecal administration of dexmedetomidine alleviated mechanical allodynia induced by chronic constriction injury (CCI), and pretreatment with BRL44408 significantly reversed the dexmedetomidine-induced anti-nociceptive effect. Western blotting revealed that dexmedetomidine reduced the activation of microglia and the upregulation of interleukin-18 (IL-18) protein expression in the ipsilateral lumbar spinal dorsal horn, while BRL44408 pretreatment significantly blocked these effects of dexmedetomidine. Immunocytochemistry/immunohistochemistry indicated that the α2A-adrenoceptor was localised to microglia in primary culture, and IL-18 predominantly colocalised with the microglial marker Iba-1 in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. These results suggest that the IL-18 signalling pathway in microglia may be involved in the anti-nociceptive effect of dexmedetomidine in rats subjected to CCI.

Concepts: Present, Molecular biology, Signal transduction, Effect, Pain, Agonist, Intrathecal, Functional selectivity


Ischemia/reperfusion (IR) injury during clinical hepatic procedures is characterized by inflammatory conditions and the apoptosis of hepatocytes. Nuclear factor‑κB (NF‑κB), nitric oxide and the expression levels of inflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor‑α and interleukin‑1 were observed to increase following IR and mediate the inflammatory response in the liver. CF102 is a highly selective A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR) agonist, and has been identified to induce an anti‑inflammatory and protective effect on the liver via the downregulation of the NF‑κB signaling pathway. The present study aimed to determine the effect of CF102 on protecting the liver against IR injury. The potential protective effect of CF102 (100 µg/kg) was assessed using an IR injury model on 70% of the liver of Wistar rats, which was induced by clamping the hepatic vasculature for 30 min. The regenerative effect of CF102 was assessed by the partial hepatectomy of 70% of the liver during 10 min of IR. CF102 reduced the levels of liver enzymes following IR injury. A higher regeneration rate in the CF102 treatment group was observed compared with the control group, suggesting that CF102 had a positive effect on the proliferation of hepatocytes following hepatectomy. CF102 had a protective effect on the liver of Wistar rats subsequent to IR injury during hepatectomy. This may be due to an anti‑inflammatory and anti‑apoptotic effect mediated by the A3AR.

Concepts: Immune system, Cytokine, Signal transduction, Liver, Glycogen, Serotonin, Protection, Functional selectivity


In a phase 2 trial, selexipag, an oral selective IP prostacyclin-receptor agonist, was shown to be beneficial in the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Concepts: Myocardial infarction, Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, Coronary artery disease, Blood pressure, Pulmonary artery, Agonist, Functional selectivity


The hypothesis that functionally selective GPCR agonists may have enhanced therapeutic benefits has revitalized interest for many GPCR targets. In particular, although κ-opioid receptor (KOR) agonists are analgesic with a low risk of dependence and abuse, their utility is limited by a propensity to induce sedation, motor incoordination, hallucinations and dysphoria-like states. Several labs have produced a body of work implying that G-protein biased KOR agonists might be analgesic with fewer side-effects. Although this has been an intriguing hypothesis, suitably KOR selective and G-protein biased agonists have not been available to test this idea. Here we provide data using a G-protein biased agonist RB-64 which suggests that KOR-mediated G protein signaling induces analgesia and aversion, whereas β-arrestin 2 signaling may be associated with motor incoordination. Additionally, unlike unbiased KOR agonists, the G protein-biased ligand RB 64 does not induce sedation and does not have anhedonia-like actions, suggesting that a mechanism other than G protein signaling mediates these effects. Our findings provide the first evidence with a highly selective and G-protein biased tool compound that many, but not all, of the negative side effects of KOR agonists can be minimized by creating G protein biased KOR agonists.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Signal transduction, Receptor antagonist, Agonist, Inverse agonist, Buprenorphine, G protein, Functional selectivity


Steroidal FXR agonists demonstrated potent anti-fibrotic activities and lowered portal hypertension in experimental models. The impact of the novel non-steroidal and selective FXR agonist PX20606 on portal hypertension and fibrosis was explored in this study.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Fibrosis, Agonist, Novel, Intrinsic activity, Functional selectivity


Opioids represent widely prescribed and abused medications, although their signal transduction mechanisms are not well understood. Here we present the 1.8 Å high-resolution crystal structure of the human δ-opioid receptor (δ-OR), revealing the presence and fundamental role of a sodium ion in mediating allosteric control of receptor functional selectivity and constitutive activity. The distinctive δ-OR sodium ion site architecture is centrally located in a polar interaction network in the seven-transmembrane bundle core, with the sodium ion stabilizing a reduced agonist affinity state, and thereby modulating signal transduction. Site-directed mutagenesis and functional studies reveal that changing the allosteric sodium site residue Asn 131 to an alanine or a valine augments constitutive β-arrestin-mediated signalling. Asp95Ala, Asn310Ala and Asn314Ala mutations transform classical δ-opioid antagonists such as naltrindole into potent β-arrestin-biased agonists. The data establish the molecular basis for allosteric sodium ion control in opioid signalling, revealing that sodium-coordinating residues act as ‘efficacy switches’ at a prototypic G-protein-coupled receptor.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Signal transduction, Chemistry, Receptor antagonist, Sodium, Agonist, Buprenorphine, Functional selectivity


Vasopressin is widely used for vasopressor support in septic shock patients, but experimental evidence suggests that selective V1A agonists are superior. The initial pharmacodynamic effects, pharmacokinetics, and safety of selepressin, a novel V1A-selective vasopressin analogue, was examined in a phase IIa trial in septic shock patients.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Agonist, Septic shock, Vasoconstriction, Adrenergic receptor, Pharmacodynamics, Functional selectivity