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Concept: Neurotransmitter


An aversion to harming others is a core component of human morality and is disturbed in antisocial behavior [1-4]. Deficient harm aversion may underlie instrumental and reactive aggression, which both feature in psychopathy [5]. Past work has highlighted monoaminergic influences on aggression [6-11], but a mechanistic account of how monoamines regulate antisocial motives remains elusive. We previously observed that most people show a greater aversion to inflicting pain on others than themselves [12]. Here, we investigated whether this hyperaltruistic disposition is susceptible to monoaminergic control. We observed dissociable effects of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram and the dopamine precursor levodopa on decisions to inflict pain on oneself and others for financial gain. Computational models of choice behavior showed that citalopram increased harm aversion for both self and others, while levodopa reduced hyperaltruism. The effects of citalopram were stronger than those of levodopa. Crucially, neither drug influenced the physical perception of pain or other components of choice such as motor impulsivity or loss aversion [13, 14], suggesting a direct and specific influence of serotonin and dopamine on the valuation of harm. We also found evidence for dose dependency of these effects. Finally, the drugs had dissociable effects on response times, with citalopram enhancing behavioral inhibition and levodopa reducing slowing related to being responsible for another’s fate. These distinct roles of serotonin and dopamine in modulating moral behavior have implications for potential treatments of social dysfunction that is a common feature as well as a risk factor for many psychiatric disorders.

Concepts: Reuptake inhibitor, Antisocial personality disorder, Morality, Serotonin, Mental disorder, Dopamine, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Neurotransmitter


We describe a disease encompassing infantile-onset movement disorder (including severe parkinsonism and nonambulation), mood disturbance, autonomic instability, and developmental delay, and we describe evidence supporting its causation by a mutation in SLC18A2 (which encodes vesicular monoamine transporter 2 [VMAT2]). VMAT2 translocates dopamine and serotonin into synaptic vesicles and is essential for motor control, stable mood, and autonomic function. Treatment with levodopa was associated with worsening, whereas treatment with direct dopamine agonists was followed by immediate ambulation, near-complete correction of the movement disorder, and resumption of development.

Concepts: Monoamine neurotransmitter, Parkinson's disease, Transport, Monoamine transporter, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Neurotransmitter, Serotonin


The parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system regulates the activity of multiple organ systems. Muscarinic receptors are G-protein-coupled receptors that mediate the response to acetylcholine released from parasympathetic nerves. Their role in the unconscious regulation of organ and central nervous system function makes them potential therapeutic targets for a broad spectrum of diseases. The M2 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (M2 receptor) is essential for the physiological control of cardiovascular function through activation of G-protein-coupled inwardly rectifying potassium channels, and is of particular interest because of its extensive pharmacological characterization with both orthosteric and allosteric ligands. Here we report the structure of the antagonist-bound human M2 receptor, the first human acetylcholine receptor to be characterized structurally, to our knowledge. The antagonist 3-quinuclidinyl-benzilate binds in the middle of a long aqueous channel extending approximately two-thirds through the membrane. The orthosteric binding pocket is formed by amino acids that are identical in all five muscarinic receptor subtypes, and shares structural homology with other functionally unrelated acetylcholine binding proteins from different species. A layer of tyrosine residues forms an aromatic cap restricting dissociation of the bound ligand. A binding site for allosteric ligands has been mapped to residues at the entrance to the binding pocket near this aromatic cap. The structure of the M2 receptor provides insights into the challenges of developing subtype-selective ligands for muscarinic receptors and their propensity for allosteric regulation.

Concepts: Acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Atropine, Nervous system, Receptor, Neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor


Dopamine signaling is implicated in reinforcement learning, but the neural substrates targeted by dopamine are poorly understood. We bypassed dopamine signaling itself and tested how optogenetic activation of dopamine D1 or D2 receptor–expressing striatal projection neurons influenced reinforcement learning in mice. Stimulating D1 receptor–expressing neurons induced persistent reinforcement, whereas stimulating D2 receptor–expressing neurons induced transient punishment, indicating that activation of these circuits is sufficient to modify the probability of performing future actions.

Concepts: Reinforcement, Reinforcement learning, Dopamine, Neurotransmitter, Operant conditioning, Nervous system, Neuron, Dopamine receptor


Accumulated evidence has suggested that potentiation of cortical GABAergic inhibitory neurotransmission may be a key mechanism in the treatment of schizophrenia. However, the downstream molecular mechanisms related to GABA potentiation remain unexplored. Recent studies have suggested that dopamine D2 receptor antagonists, which are used in the clinical treatment of schizophrenia, modulate protein kinase B (Akt)/glycogen synthase kinase (GSK)-3 signaling. Here we report that activation of GABAB receptors significantly inhibits Akt/GSK-3 signaling in a beta-arrestin-dependent pathway. Agonist stimulation of GABAB receptors enhances the phosphorylation of Akt (Thr-308) and enhances the phosphorylation of GSK-3alpha (Ser-21)/beta (Ser-9) in both HEK-293T cells expressing GABAB receptors and rat hippocampal slices. Furthermore, knocking down the expression of beta-arrestin2 using siRNA abolishes the GABAB receptor-mediated modulation of GSK-3 signaling. Our data may help to identify potentially novel targets through which GABAB receptor agents may exert therapeutic effects in the treatment of schizophrenia.

Concepts: GABAB receptor, Neurotransmitter, Dopamine receptor D2, Dopamine receptor, Receptor, Receptor antagonist, Schizophrenia, Signal transduction


The anti-alcoholism medication, disulfiram (Antabuse), decreases cocaine use in humans regardless of concurrent alcohol consumption and facilitates cocaine sensitization in rats, but the functional targets are unknown. Disulfiram inhibits dopamine β-hydroxylase (DBH), the enzyme that converts dopamine (DA) to norepinephrine (NE) in noradrenergic neurons. The goal of this study was to test the effects of chronic genetic or pharmacological DBH inhibition on behavioral responses to cocaine using DBH knockout (Dbh -/-) mice, disulfiram, and the selective DBH inhibitor, nepicastat. Locomotor activity was measured in control (Dbh +/-) and Dbh -/- mice during a 5 day regimen of saline+saline, disulfiram+saline, nepicastat+saline, saline+cocaine, disulfiram+cocaine, or nepicastat+cocaine. After a 10 day withdrawal period, all groups were administered cocaine, and locomotor activity and stereotypy were measured. Drug-naïve Dbh -/- mice were hypersensitive to cocaine-induced locomotion and resembled cocaine-sensitized Dbh +/- mice. Chronic disulfiram administration facilitated cocaine-induced locomotion in some mice and induced stereotypy in others during the development of sensitization, while cocaine-induced stereotypy was evident in all nepicastat-treated mice. Cocaine-induced stereotypy was profoundly increased in the disulfiram+cocaine, nepicastat+cocaine, and nepicastat+saline groups upon cocaine challenge after withdrawal in Dbh +/- mice. Disulfiram or nepicastat treatment had no effect on behavioral responses to cocaine in Dbh -/- mice. These results demonstrate that chronic DBH inhibition facilitates behavioral responses to cocaine, although different methods of inhibition (genetic vs. non-selective inhibitor vs. selective inhibitor) enhance qualitatively different cocaine-induced behaviors.

Concepts: Neurotransmitter, Alcoholism, Nicotine, Inhibitor, Cocaine, Enzyme inhibitor, Dopamine, Norepinephrine


The cutaneous silent period (CSP) is a spinal inhibitory reflex primarily mediated by A-delta fibers. Prolonged CSPs have been reported in patients with restless legs syndrome (RLS) and idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (IPD). Dopaminergic medication normalizes the CSP, concurring with the effect of levodopa on CSPs. To date, CSPs have not been extensively studied in patients with multiple system atrophy (MSA). The purpose of this study was to confirm abnormal CSP findings in a group of MSA patients and to affirm the lack of influence of levodopa on CSPs during long-term treatment.

Concepts: Parkinsonism, Multiple system atrophy, Neurotransmitter, Ropinirole, Pramipexole, Restless legs syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Dopamine


Aims: Rasagiline is a selective, irreversible monoamine oxidase type B inhibitor, developed for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In compliance with current regulatory requirements, rasagiline underwent a thorough QT/QTc (TQT) study to assess its potential to prolong cardiac repolarization. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of clinical (1 mg/day) and supratherapeutic (2 mg/day and 6 mg/day) multiple oral doses of rasagiline on the baseline- and placebo-adjusted QTc interval (delta delta QTc (ddQTc)). Other electrocardiogram parameters, pharmacokinetic assessments, safety and tolerability as well as vital signs were investigated. Methods: This was a five-arm, randomized, double-blind, placebo- and active-controlled, and parallel study in healthy subjects. Moxifloxacin (400 mg) positive control was included to demonstrate assay sensitivity. Results: 247 of 250 randomized subjects completed the study. Time-matched analysis of ddQTc yielded two-sided 90% confidence intervals for all rasagiline doses below the 10 ms regulatory threshold, showing no effect on cardiac repolarization. Concentration-effect analysis demonstrated no relationships between rasagiline (and its metabolite 1-aminoindan), plasma concentrations, and ddQTc. The pharmacokinetic profile of rasagiline was consistent with previous studies. Adverse events were mild to moderate in intensity and were similar across all treatment groups. There were no clinically significant changes in heart rate and systolic blood pressure. Conclusion: This TQT study demonstrated a favorable cardiac safety profile of rasagiline.

Concepts: Monoamine oxidase, Pulse, Parkinson's disease, Neurotransmitter, Blood, Vital signs, Pharmacology, Blood pressure


Direct electric power generation using biological functions have become a research focus due to their low cost and cleanliness. Unlike major approaches using glucose fuels or microbial fuel cells (MFCs), we present a generation method with intrinsically high energy conversion efficiency and generation with arbitrary timing using living electric organs of Torpedo (electric rays) which are serially integrated electrocytes converting ATP into electric energy. We developed alternative nervous systems using fluid pressure to stimulate electrocytes by a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (Ach), and demonstrated electric generation. Maximum voltage and current were 1.5 V and 0.64 mA, respectively, with a duration time of a few seconds. We also demonstrated energy accumulation in a capacitor. The current was far larger than that using general cells other than electrocytes (~pA level). The generation ability was confirmed against repetitive cycles and also after preservation for 1 day. This is the first step toward ATP-based energy harvesting devices.

Concepts: Coal, Electromagnetism, Neurotransmitter, Electricity, Energy conversion, Electric power, Electricity generation, Electrical generator


Neurotransmitter corelease is emerging as a common theme of central neuromodulatory systems. Though corelease of glutamate or GABA with acetylcholine has been reported within the cholinergic system, the full extent is unknown. To explore synaptic signaling of cholinergic forebrain neurons, we activated choline acetyltransferase expressing neurons using channelrhodopsin while recording post-synaptic currents (PSCs) in layer 1 interneurons. Surprisingly, we observed PSCs mediated by GABAA receptors in addition to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Based on PSC latency and pharmacological sensitivity, our results suggest monosynaptic release of both GABA and ACh. Anatomical analysis showed that forebrain cholinergic neurons express the GABA synthetic enzyme Gad2 and the vesicular GABA transporter (Slc32a1). We confirmed the direct release of GABA by knocking out Slc32a1 from cholinergic neurons. Our results identify GABA as an overlooked fast neurotransmitter utilized throughout the forebrain cholinergic system. GABA/ACh corelease may have major implications for modulation of cortical function by cholinergic neurons.

Concepts: Nicotine, Myasthenia gravis, Ligand-gated ion channel, GABAA receptor, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, Neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine