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Concept: Neuropsychopharmacology


In this paper we determined the pharmacological profiles of novel ketamine and phencyclidine analogues currently used as ‘designer drugs’ and compared them to the parent substances via the resources of the National Institute of Mental Health Psychoactive Drug Screening Program. The ketamine analogues methoxetamine ((RS)-2-(ethylamino)-2-(3-methoxyphenyl)cyclohexanone) and 3-MeO-PCE (N-ethyl-1-(3-methoxyphenyl)cyclohexanamine) and the 3- and 4-methoxy analogues of phencyclidine, (1-[1-(3-methoxyphenyl)cyclohexyl]piperidine and 1-[1-(4-methoxyphenyl)cyclohexyl]piperidine), were all high affinity ligands for the PCP-site on the glutamate NMDA receptor. In addition methoxetamine and PCP and its analogues displayed appreciable affinities for the serotonin transporter, whilst the PCP analogues exhibited high affinities for sigma receptors. Antagonism of the NMDA receptor is thought to be the key pharmacological feature underlying the actions of dissociative anaesthetics. The novel ketamine and PCP analogues had significant affinities for the NMDA receptor in radioligand binding assays, which may explain their psychotomimetic effects in human users. Additional actions on other targets could be important for delineating side-effects.

Concepts: Drug, NMDA receptor, Morphine, Ketamine, Recreational drug use, Neuropsychopharmacology, Insufflation, Dextromethorphan


Ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs) mediate neurotransmission at the majority of excitatory synapses in the brain. Little is known, however, about how glutamate reaches the recessed binding pocket in iGluR ligand-binding domains (LBDs). Here we report the process of glutamate binding to a prototypical iGluR, GluA2, in atomistic detail using unbiased molecular simulations. Charged residues on the LBD surface form pathways that facilitate glutamate binding by effectively reducing a three-dimensional diffusion process to a spatially constrained, two-dimensional one. Free energy calculations identify residues that metastably bind glutamate and help guide it into the binding pocket. These simulations also reveal that glutamate can bind in an inverted conformation and also reorient while in its pocket. Electrophysiological recordings demonstrate that eliminating these transient binding sites slows activation and deactivation, consistent with slower glutamate binding and unbinding. These results suggest that binding pathways have evolved to optimize rapid responses of AMPA-type iGluRs at synapses.

Concepts: Action potential, Neuroscience, Ligand, NMDA receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Glutamate receptor, Ligand-gated ion channel, Neuropsychopharmacology


Sighs are long, deep breaths expressing sadness, relief or exhaustion. Sighs also occur spontaneously every few minutes to reinflate alveoli, and sighing increases under hypoxia, stress, and certain psychiatric conditions. Here we use molecular, genetic, and pharmacologic approaches to identify a peptidergic sigh control circuit in murine brain. Small neural subpopulations in a key breathing control centre, the retrotrapezoid nucleus/parafacial respiratory group (RTN/pFRG), express bombesin-like neuropeptide genes neuromedin B (Nmb) or gastrin-releasing peptide (Grp). These project to the preBötzinger Complex (preBötC), the respiratory rhythm generator, which expresses NMB and GRP receptors in overlapping subsets of ~200 neurons. Introducing either neuropeptide into preBötC or onto preBötC slices, induced sighing or in vitro sigh activity, whereas elimination or inhibition of either receptor reduced basal sighing, and inhibition of both abolished it. Ablating receptor-expressing neurons eliminated basal and hypoxia-induced sighing, but left breathing otherwise intact initially. We propose that these overlapping peptidergic pathways comprise the core of a sigh control circuit that integrates physiological and perhaps emotional input to transform normal breaths into sighs.

Concepts: Nervous system, Protein, Oxygen, Neuron, Brain, Serotonin, Neuropsychopharmacology, Bombesin


The trace amine-associated receptor (Taar) family displays high species- and subtype-specific pharmacology. Several trace amines such as β-phenylethylamine (β-PEA), p-tyramine and tryptamine are agonists at TA(1) but poorly activate rat and mouse Taar4.

Concepts: Receptor, Receptor antagonist, Serotonin, Olfactory receptor, Inverse agonist, Neuropsychopharmacology, Trace amine-associated receptor, Trace amine


Aminoindanes, piperazines, and pipradrol derivatives are novel psychoactive substances found in “Ecstasy” tablets as replacements for 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or substances sold as “ivory wave.” The pharmacology of these MDMA- and methylphenidate-like substances is poorly known. We characterized the pharmacology of the aminoindanes 5,6-methylenedioxy-2-aminoindane (MDAI), 5-iodoaminoindane (5-IAI), and 2-aminoindane (2-AI), the piperazines meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (m-CPP), trifluoromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP), and 1-benzylpiperazine (BZP), and the pipradrol derivatives desoxypipradrol (2-diphenylmethylpiperidine [2-DPMP]), diphenylprolinol (diphenyl-2-pyrrolidinemethanol [D2PM]), and methylphenidate. We investigated norepinephrine (NE), dopamine (DA), and serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine [5-HT]) uptake inhibition using human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK 293) cells that express the respective human monoamine transporters (NET, DAT, and SERT). We also evaluated the drug-induced efflux of NE, DA, and 5-HT from monoamine-preloaded cells and the binding affinity to monoamine transporters and receptors, including trace amine-associated receptor 1 (TAAR1). 5-IAI and MDAI preferentially inhibited the SERT and NET and released 5-HT. 2-AI interacted with the NET. BZP blocked the NET and released DA. m-CPP and TFMPP interacted with the SERT and serotonergic receptors. The pipradrol derivatives were potent and selective catecholamine transporter blockers without substrate releasing properties. BZP, D2PM, and 2-DPMP lacked serotonergic activity and TAAR1 binding, in contrast to the aminoindanes and phenylpiperazines. In summary, all of the substances were monoamine transporter inhibitors, but marked differences were found in their DAT vs. SERT inhibition profiles, release properties, and receptor interactions. The pharmacological profiles of D2PM and 2-DPMP likely predict a high abuse liability.

Concepts: Serotonin, Dopamine, Methylphenidate, Amphetamine, Monoamine transporter, Neuropsychopharmacology, Pipradrol, Desoxypipradrol


NMDA receptors are ligand-gated ion channels that assemble into tetrameric receptor complexes composed of glycine-binding GluN1 and GluN3 subunits (GluN3A-B) and glutamate-binding GluN2 subunits (GluN2A-D). NMDA receptors can assemble as GluN1/N2 receptors and as GluN3-containing NMDA receptors, which are either glutamate/glycine-activated triheteromeric GluN1/N2/N3 receptors or glycine-activated diheteromeric GluN1/N3 receptors. The glycine-binding GluN1 and GluN3 subunits display strikingly different pharmacological selectivity profiles. However, the pharmacological characterization of GluN3-containing receptors has been hampered by the lack of methods and pharmacological tools to study GluN3 subunit pharmacology in isolation. Here, we have developed a method to study the pharmacology of GluN3 subunits in recombinant diheteromeric GluN1/N3 receptors by mutating the orthosteric ligand-binding pocket in GluN1. This method is suitable for performing compound screening and characterization of structure-activity relationship studies on GluN3 ligands. We have performed a virtual screen of the orthosteric binding site of GluN3A in the search for antagonists with selectivity for GluN3 subunits. In the subsequent pharmacological evaluation of 99 selected compounds, we identified 6-hydroxy-[1,2,5]oxadiazolo[3,4-b]pyrazin-5(4H)-one (TK80) a novel competitive antagonist with preference for the GluN3B subunit. Serendipitously, we also identified [2-hydroxy-5-((4-(pyridin-3-yl)thiazol-2-yl)amino]benzoic acid (TK13) and 4-(2,4-dichlorobenzoyl)-1H-pyrrole-2-carboxylic acid (TK30), two novel non-competitive GluN3 antagonists. These findings demonstrate that structural differences between the orthosteric binding site of GluN3 and GluN1 can be exploited to generate selective ligands.

Concepts: Protein, Pharmacology, Signal transduction, Receptor, Ligand, Receptor antagonist, Ligand-gated ion channel, Neuropsychopharmacology


It is evident that G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) such as D2 dopamine receptor and functionally related Trace Amine Associated Receptor 1 (TAAR1) can engage both in G protein-dependent (e.g., cAMP-mediated) and -independent β-arrestin-mediated signaling modalities. Both of these signaling events can be monitored in real-time and in live cells by using new biosensors based on a Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) approach. Here we discuss the practical applications of BRET to analyze dynamics of cAMP modulation via an EPAC biosensor as well as recruitment of β-arrestin2 to the D2 dopamine receptor. Combination of these approaches allows for a comparison of activity of pharmacological compounds on these signaling modalities as demonstrated for various antipsychotics as regard to D2 dopamine receptor. Furthermore, analysis of cAMP concentrations in cells expressing TAAR1 provides a simple high-throughput screening method to identify new ligands for this receptor. These BRET approaches could be applied for the characterization of pharmacology and signaling of variety of other GPCRs.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Dopamine receptor, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Antipsychotic, Pharmacy, Dopamine receptor D2, Neuropsychopharmacology


Spinal fusion is widely used for patients with spinal disorders; however, patients often suffer from back pain following fusion surgery. Substance P (SP) acts as a pain neurotransmitter via the sensory nerve afferent fibres up to the spinal cord, and is involved in the conduction and modulation of pain. The use of specific SP neurokinin receptor (NKR) antagonists may decrease postoperative pain. In the present study, the effects of alterations in the quantity of SP and NKRs in the early spinal fusion process were investigated. The results of the present study revealed that SP and NKRs began to appear 1 week post‑surgery in fibrous tissues. The abundance of SP and NKRs peaked at 3 weeks post‑surgery; the majority of SP and NKRs were distributed around the allograft and the new microvessels. In conclusion, SP and NKRs are involved in early spinal fusion, a finding that may facilitate the development of novel strategies to promote spinal fusion from a neurogenesis perspective.

Concepts: Nervous system, Time, Neuron, Pain, Sensory system, Receptor antagonist, Neuropsychopharmacology, Sensory neuron


The cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) is the principal target of the psychoactive constituent of marijuana, the partial agonist Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ(9)-THC). Here we report two agonist-bound crystal structures of human CB1 in complex with a tetrahydrocannabinol (AM11542) and a hexahydrocannabinol (AM841) at 2.80 Å and 2.95 Å resolution, respectively. The two CB1-agonist complexes reveal important conformational changes in the overall structure, relative to the antagonist-bound state, including a 53% reduction in the volume of the ligand-binding pocket and an increase in the surface area of the G-protein-binding region. In addition, a ‘twin toggle switch’ of Phe200(3.36) and Trp356(6.48) (superscripts denote Ballesteros-Weinstein numbering) is experimentally observed and appears to be essential for receptor activation. The structures reveal important insights into the activation mechanism of CB1 and provide a molecular basis for predicting the binding modes of Δ(9)-THC, and endogenous and synthetic cannabinoids. The plasticity of the binding pocket of CB1 seems to be a common feature among certain class A G-protein-coupled receptors. These findings should inspire the design of chemically diverse ligands with distinct pharmacological properties.

Concepts: Receptor antagonist, Cannabinoid receptor, Tetrahydrocannabinol, Cannabis, Recreational drug use, Neuropsychopharmacology, HU-210


The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is a brain region important for regulating anxiety-related behavior in both humans and rodents. Here we used a chemogenetic strategy to investigate how engagement of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signaling cascades in genetically defined GABAergic BNST neurons modulates anxiety-related behavior and downstream circuit function. We saw that stimulation of vesicular γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) transporter (VGAT)-expressing BNST neurons using hM3Dq, but neither hM4Di nor rM3Ds designer receptors exclusively activated by a designer drug (DREADD), promotes anxiety-like behavior. Further, we identified that activation of hM3Dq receptors in BNST VGAT neurons can induce a long-term depression-like state of glutamatergic synaptic transmission, indicating DREADD-induced changes in synaptic plasticity. Further, we used DREADD-assisted metabolic mapping to profile brain-wide network activity following activation of Gq-mediated signaling in BNST VGAT neurons and saw increased activity within ventral midbrain structures, including the ventral tegmental area and hindbrain structures such as the locus coeruleus and parabrachial nucleus. These results highlight that Gq-mediated signaling in BNST VGAT neurons can drive downstream network activity that correlates with anxiety-like behavior and points to the importance of identifying endogenous GPCRs within genetically defined cell populations. We next used a microfluidics approach to profile the receptorome of single BNST VGAT neurons. This approach yielded multiple Gq-coupled receptors that are associated with anxiety-like behavior and several potential novel candidates for regulation of anxiety-like behavior. From this, we identified that stimulation of the Gq-coupled receptor 5-HT2CR in the BNST is sufficient to elevate anxiety-like behavior in an acoustic startle task. Together, these results provide a novel profile of receptors within genetically defined BNST VGAT neurons that may serve as therapeutic targets for regulating anxiety states and provide a blueprint for examining how G-protein-mediated signaling in a genetically defined cell type can be used to assess behavior and brain-wide circuit function.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 13 December 2016; doi:10.1038/mp.2016.218.

Concepts: Nervous system, Protein, Cell, Signal transduction, G protein-coupled receptor, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, G protein, Neuropsychopharmacology